Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Zero-based budgeting

Zero-based budgeting


When I was a young head I learned about what was presented to me (probably erroneously) as a new way of budgeting. When drawing up a budget, instead of saying “last year plus x%” (that was in the days of dependably high inflation!), the new wisdom was to ask: “what do we absolutely need to spend next year?” It wasn’t rocket-science: but it was useful.

Budget Day on Wednesday saw Chancellor George Osborne pull off a different zero-based trick. He offered nothing in advance: on the day he gave, in effect, nothing away!

To be sure, there were grand announcements with regard to education. Every (maintained) school will become an academy: we knew that would come. It’s just the government agenda. Remember Specialist Schools? I do. Now the flavor is Academies (though there’s some confusion with Free Schools). I wonder whether a future government will label its preferred “new” model as “schools”: I expect it will happen in my lifetime. Things come full circle pretty quickly in government thinking.

Next there’s all that new money (did I hear £1.8bn?) to extend the school day. Yes, you have to pay staff to work from 8 till 6 instead of 9 till 3: at least, you do if you treat them the way government does.  At the RGS we look after our teachers and other staff and they readily go the extra mile. It’s not new money that George is finding, by the way: just recycled, most of it anyway.

It’s the usual government flim-flam. Zero new: lots recycled. Some surprise has been expressed in the media that education announcements formed part of the Chancellor’s budget at all: one suspects he had little of real substance to say.

Smoke and mirrors. The government talks a good line of “setting schools and school leaders free” and simultaneously controls them with a rod of iron.

At the RGS we enjoy real independence from government, notwithstanding constantly creeping legislation. And we make the most of it. It is what allows our inspired and inspiring teachers to offer our students unparalleled opportunities and intellectual adventure to which they readily respond. The recipe works.

Economic experts (I’m not one) suggest the Chancellor offered nothing new except an ill-thought-out sugar tax. I can say with authority he offered nothing new in education.

Thank heaven for independence. Thank heaven for the RGS.

Bernard Trafford
Headmaster