Like Christmas, Easter and the last day of the school year, there are certain dates that are ingrained in the DNA of all schools’s managers.

There’s another one though – a not so well-known red mark on the calendar: the first Friday at the end of the first full week in October.

“What’s that?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s the day of the famous October audit – the day when a line is drawn under all schools’s data, and which gives the underpinning information for the setting of the following year’s school budget.

Other data is collated too; the most notable being exam results so schools can start scoring points off each other.

So how do schools get their budgets, and what do they spend them on?

In broad brush strokes, there are two main factors that determine how much a school gets – the number of students it has, and the physical size of the buildings and site.

As a starting point, next year in 2021/22, every student will be worth £2,429.43 ¬– a base figure to which a weighting is added.

This snappily-named ‘Age-Weighted Pupil Unit’ is based on class sizes, resources needed and other infrastructural and pedagogical requirements.

When it’s applied, nursery and primary school pupils stand to receive 1.452 and 1.08 of this figure, which makes every pupil in this bracket worth £4,081.50 and £2,623.80 each, respectively.

From Years 8-12, Key Stages 3 and 4, the weighting is 1.68, which means that for each student in this category, a school will receive £4,081.45 per annum.

For Sixth Formers, schools receive a weighting of 2.18 extra, which translates into £5,296.17 per student – a fact that explains why schools promote their Sixth Form entry so much.

In addition to this weighting, we then go into ‘other funding’ – an area that covers premises, additional money for targeting social need, support for small schools, salary protection for schools which have an older ‘top-heavy’ staff in terms of both pay and employer pension contribution, and a category that covers pupils or students who are in various risk categories and who need additional support.

These groups are ‘newcomer pupils’ (such as those from a country where English – or Irish, if the case applies – is not their first language); those from the Traveller community; children of service personnel who have moved around from army camp to army camp; and children who are ‘looked after’, such as those in foster care.

The reasons for all these additional allowances are extra support, and this costs money.

From the child who doesn’t speak English to the student who has been yo-yoing in and out of care – it’s all the same to the bank account: extra hours of staff support means ‘pounds, shillings and pence’.

Under the term ‘premises’ mentioned before, it’s worth noting that schools get additional help if their building is old, or if they’re on a split site.

Quite simply, an old school costs more to heat, maintain and service, so in this respect, governments in the Western world are always keen to get their charges into new buildings – they’re much more efficient to run.

So, the burning question, pardon the pun, is how much does all this translate into what each school in the area gets?

The three grammar schools in the county are also the largest, so based on the data collected in the October ‘audit’, Enniskillen Royal Grammar School will receive £4,691,102 for the year 2020-21; Mount Lourdes GS, £3,949,997; and St. Michael’s College, £3,643,337.

Although there’s not much difference in student numbers between the three schools, ERGS’s existence between two school sites will contribute to its larger budget.

The two post-primary maintained schools in town – St. Joseph’s and St. Fanchea’s College – will get £1,396,285 and £1,643,752 for 2020–21, respectively.

A third Enniskillen school, Devenish College, will get £2,973,587. Devenish’s large number of students is the main reason for its budget, and being the only Controlled nonselective school in Fermanagh, it has more students than both the Catholic maintained schools combined.

Concluding the town’s post-primaries, Erne Integrated College will receive £2,193,406 next year.

Moving out of Enniskillen, all the post-primary schools are Catholic maintained and the largest of these, St. Kevin’s College, will get £3,344,798.

The remaining Fermanagh post-primary schools – St. Aidan’s in Derrylin, and St. Mary’s College, Irvinestown – will each receive £1,293,349 and £925,879 this year respectively to run their schools.

To answer the earlier question (what do schools spend their money on), well, it’s pretty much everything, including staff salaries, repairs, equipment, resources and certain one-off eventualities.

This puts an inevitable strain on the system, with education being underfunded the way it is, but schools have to do it – they’ve no choice.

This is why they scrimp and save so much on teaching, yet arguably spend quite a lot on advertising; more students equals more money.

Another area of spending is anchored in the focus of a school and where they see their priorities.

For some schools, this could be sport, and the cost of sending regular buses off each Saturday and sometimes mid-week is a feature that these schools prioritise as a ‘must-have’.

Likewise, a focus could be music or drama, and the cost of a school production, even when offset by selling tickets, is huge.

Against this, a good sports team, choir or drama society, to name some other examples, is an expense that schools will happily accommodate.

Not only is it the best form of PR they can get, but it is also good teaching; contributing towards the emotional and extra-curricular development of the pupil or student in the holistic sense.

In an ideal world, we’d all want a school that would have opportunities for all sports, music, acting, foreign languages and so on, but this isn’t always possible, outside Belfast.

To be crude about it, there are economies of scale at play, and if we want these opportunities for our children, then we’ll have to settle for fewer schools and bite the bullet of what is essentially a faith-based and academically selective education system.