How trusts are responding to the cost-of-living crisis

10 Jun 2023, 6:00

The cost-of-living crisis has had a profound impact on academy trust operations. Almost one in three respondents to a survey of 84 trust leaders in May by The Key and Forum Strategy said they were confident that their trust will be able to weather the cost-of-living crisis while delivering an offer that aligns with their trust’s vision.

When asked to rank the challenges arising from the crisis according to the significance of their impact on their trust, leaders identified “staffing costs, including supply” (51 per cent) and “rising energy costs” (42 per cent) as the highest-impact hurdles.

Some mentioned the unknowns of pay increments and lack of investment to pay for increments as challenges that have added to the complexities they face.

How challenges are being overcome

In the face of these challenges, trust leaders have found innovative solutions to support their schools.

Three-quarters have implemented measures such as sharing teaching and leadership staff across their trust (74 per cent), a strategy that not only addresses rising costs but also, as some commented, helps to mitigate the sector’s staff retention issues.

Seven in ten trust leaders have also sought to optimise resources and streamline operations, by centralising certain supplier contracts. Just over half are aligning staffing decisions at trust and school level with the integrated curriculum and financial planning (ICFP) process.

However, it is disheartening that trust leaders have had to make difficult choices to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

Leaders told us they’ve had to reduce investment in their schools in some areas to alleviate the financial strain, including in “buildings and estates” (64 per cent), “curriculum and resources” (45 per cent), and “specialist central staff” (38 per cent). Such cuts undoubtedly have consequences for trusts’ overall provision, including the quality of education and support they can offer.

Supporting communities central to support

Despite struggles, trust leaders have extended their support to school staff facing rising costs in their own lives.

Many have introduced or maintained initiatives such as cycle-to-work schemes (63 per cent), employee assistance programs (58 per cent), and support for childcare costs (24 per cent) to help alleviate financial pressures.

Some trusts have gone so far as to offer free lunches and implement food banks for their staff, acknowledging the importance of supporting their workforce during these challenging times.

The majority of leaders we surveyed are also investing in pupil wellbeing strategies, reviewing pupil premium spending to maximise its impact, supporting food banks and investing in or subsidising breakfast clubs to make sure that both pupils and their families receive support to cope with rising costs.

These efforts complement wider community initiatives aimed at addressing food insecurity and demonstrate trusts’ commitment to their broader social responsibilities.

Emerging positives amidst the crisis

Despite the immense difficulties, 45 per cent of respondents acknowledged that some positive outcomes are emerging from the crisis, including a renewed focus on their communities and progress in sustainability agendas.

Two-thirds of leaders said their trust has actively sought measures to minimise electricity usage. And many indicated they have explored sustainable alternatives, such as investing in renewable energy (e.g. solar panels) and energy-efficient products (e.g. LED lights). The crisis appears to have played a role in accelerating trusts’ moves towards environmental sustainability,  with many taking steps to align their organisations with these principles.

The survey findings underscore the resilience of trust leaders and their unwavering commitment to their schools and communities, and perhaps most notably to the wellbeing of staff and pupils.

Despite the daunting challenges posed by the cost-of-living crisis, trust leaders have shown adaptability, innovation, and a determination to provide quality education.

Forum Strategy’s National #TrustLeaders Symposium takes place in Nottingham on Thursday, 15 June.

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  1. Katie Rich

    …and at no point are they encouraging parents of children with SEND to try “a more suitable school” to save money and effort.

    Am I the only parent (ex-teacher) who has had a discussion about how expensive their child is to teach?

  2. Zarah Salim

    I would contact Zenergi for Energy Solution Saving Idea’s – they specialise in Schools and Energy Procurement as well as Energy Saving Solutions