In a recent survey conducted by The Key and Forum Strategy, 84 trust leaders shed light on the challenges faced by trusts amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. The survey reveals the impact of the crisis on trust operations and the efforts made by leaders to overcome these challenges. Despite the difficulties, the survey also highlights the unwavering support provided by trusts to pupils, families, and staff in their schools.
Lack of confidence amidst the crisis
According to the survey, only one in three trust leaders (32%) expressed confidence in navigating the cost-of-living crisis without compromising their trust's vision. This lack of confidence is not surprising, as 45% of respondents reported that the overall effects of the crisis were worse than anticipated. Recognising the urgency of the situation, trust leaders from across the country are coming together at the second annual National #TrustLeaders Symposium, scheduled for June 15 in Nottingham. This symposium aims to foster discussion, knowledge sharing, and future planning among trust leaders.
Impacts on trust operations
The vast majority of respondents (96%), reported that the cost-of-living crisis has affected their trust’s work in this academic year. When asked to rank 5 known cost-of-living challenges according to the significance of their impact on their trust, half (51%) cited “staffing costs, including supply” as the highest-impact so far. “Rising energy costs” followed closely behind, with 42% saying this was the highest-impact cost-of-living challenge their trust has had to deal with.
Proactive measures taken by trust leaders
To address these challenges, trust leaders have proactively implemented a broad range of measures to help their schools. While also grappling with the sector's staff retention issues, nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents reported that they have shared teaching and leadership staff across their trust to tackle increasing costs. One respondent in a trust governance role commented that “shared leadership arrangements have supported schools cost-effectively and avoided the need for any redundancies”.
The majority of respondents (71%) have brought certain supplier contracts into the central team to take advantage of economies of scale. And over half (56%) have made sure their integrated curriculum and financial planning (ICFP) process is the driving force behind staffing decisions at both school and trust level.
Tackling rising costs
When asked in which areas, if any, they have needed to reduce investment to mitigate the effects of the crisis, trust leaders most commonly cited “buildings and estates” (64%), “curriculum and resources” (45%) and “specialist central staff” (38%).
In addition to helping schools shoulder costs, trusts have stepped in to help schools support their staff with rising costs. The 3 most-commonly cited initiatives were “cycle to work schemes” (63%), “employee assistance programmes” (which typically include advice on financial issues, as part of a suite of wider external support) (58%), and “support with childcare costs” (24%).
Some respondents commented that their trust has been offering free lunches for school staff, with one saying they had implemented food banks for their employees. In a sector already operating in lean conditions, there is not much opportunity for schools to provide over-and-above assistance to staff, but it's clear that trusts are doing all they can to help their staff at a time of financial crisis.
The survey also found that trusts have been playing a vital role in supporting their communities through the cost-of-living crisis. As measures to support pupils' families with rising costs, 56% of respondents said their trust has "invested in pupil wellbeing strategies" and the same proportion (56%) has “reviewed pupil premium spending strategies across the trust to maximise the impact of spend”. More than half (54%) said their trust has “supported food banks” and the same proportion (54%) has “invested in or subsidised breakfast clubs” - no doubt complementing the efforts already underway in the community to reach more families struggling with food insecurity.
Surprising outcomes from the crisis
Despite the challenges, 45% of respondents acknowledged that there had been some positive outcomes from the crisis, including the aforementioned renewed focus on their communities and progress in their sustainability agendas. 67% of respondents said their trust had put measures in place to minimise electricity usage. Some have sought more sustainable alternatives, such as helping their schools to invest in renewable energy (e.g. solar panels) and supporting the use of energy-efficient products and tools (e.g. LED lights). These actions may have accelerated trusts’ moves towards becoming more sustainable organisations, with one respondent in a governance role commenting that the crisis has brought “greater recognition for environment and sustainability measures”.
Summarising the survey, Michael McGarvey, Managing Director of The Key, said: “These findings illustrate that, while trusts face significant challenges due to the cost-of-living crisis, their commitment to investing in their communities, sustainability, and staff and pupil wellbeing remains strong. Trusts continue to adapt and implement innovative solutions to ensure the provision of quality education and support to pupils, families, and staff members.”
As a member of The Key you can access further guidance and support on the cost-of-living crisis, such as: