School Business Leadership

Ask Anna – What is it with all these deadlines?

Dear Anna, We recently converted to Academy and it has truly been one deadline after another! Any tips for keeping cool? Delia

Hello Delia,

As I’m taking a break from my own Budget Forecast Return Outturn to answer your email, I’m feeling your pain!

You’re right, there is a lot of reporting to the DfE for Academies and the list of report deadlines seems to be growing. I guess we always knew that a centralised system was going to mean that every Trust would have to start completing the returns previously fulfilled by the LAs and in return we’d get longed for autonomy and independence.

I’m sure that the independence and freedoms will materialise eventually (hopefully before I start drawing my pension) but in the meantime we are tied to a reporting system that requires us to let them know every time we sneeze!

Here are my tips for staying cool.
  1. Get a grip on your diary and download the Academies Finance Planning calendar. It’s not the most user friendly document so take all the information and insert the detail into your electronic diary of choice – I use Outlook.
  2. Then block out time in advance of the deadline to re-register (it has always found a way of chucking me out!), read the guidance, watch the tutorials, go to any training sessions in your area, plan what you need to complete the return and then complete it.
  3. If, like me, you’ve had a lot on and other priorities have meant you’ve left it to the last minute…Don’t Panic! Start it. If you get stuck – don’t waste time fiddling about with it, ask someone. There will be a knowledgable SBL out there, either locally or on SBLTwitter who will say “Oh, you just do this…” and it’s sorted.
  4. Even if you are short of time, make notes as you go along to remind yourself where you got that number from or how that calculation works, as well as things you learn along the way to completion.
  5. Keep ALL your workings. Not only will that help you if they come back with queries but it will remind you how you solved issues when you have to do it again next year!
  6. If you have to spend your weekend working on it, remember to take a bit of the time back when the deadline has been achieved. Have a long #SBMlunch with a friend, stop into a coffee shop when you do the banking, leave an hour early one afternoon. These are small things but they make me feel like a human being who doesn’t just live to work!
  7. My final, probably contentious, piece of advice is don’t sweat every number. Remember they are looking for your return in the £000’s. Rounding is going to be a thing.

I think the most important tip To share about being an SBL (whether Academy, Maintained, SAT or MAT) is that, although we try, we just can’t be an expert in, and always totally on top of, everything (well, I certainly can’t!) We need to share, collaborate and support each other, in order to get this job done.

You’ve got this.


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