December 2011

The know zone

  • Take note
    Governance, finance, buildings, liabilities, personnel… increased autonomy lays bare a raft of rights and responsibilities that academies can’t ignore, says Richard Bird. More
  • Coining new terms
    Sam Ellis introduces a series of articles designed to help leaders adapt to a world in which curriculum planning is determined by what you can afford, not what you need. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Horace, Napoleon Hill, Maya Angelou, Frank A Clark. More
  • Permanent state of bliss?
    Ross Morrison McGill was made voluntarily redundant from his role as assistant head of an academy in London in August. He hopes to run his own school one day and is currently blogging and fundraising for Bliss, a charity that helps families with prematurely-born children, after his son Freddie was born two months early. More
  • Green is good
    Through its Green Schools Revolution (GSR) community education programme, The Co-operative is encouraging students to work towards a more sustainable future. A range of resources, activities and trips have been devised to engage everyone from young, first-time environmentalists to committed ‘greenagers’. More
  • Adding value
    Data is critical to informing decisions on whole school improvement but many schools and academies are failing to make good use of the powerful tools available in their management information systems (MIS). More
  • LA story: The final cut?
    Do local authorities still have a role to play in education? If so, in what areas? Should they be involved in monitoring and raising standards, take on a more limited role, or have no involvement at all with education? Leaders share their views… More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Terminal exams set to stay in England & Pensions come home to roost More
  • Taking care of business
    While pensions and industrial action were at the forefront of everyone’s mind during the last Council meeting on 13-14 October, there was plenty of other business to attend to. Here is a snapshot of the committee discussions More
  • Trading places
    If the school system becomes polarised between confident high-achieving institutions and ones struggling to overcome major challenges, collaboration will become not just important but essential, says Brian Lightman. Otherwise, the dream of a world-class education system has no hope of becoming a reality. More
  • Sense & sensibility?
    Eric Hester reports a startling DfE development: some leadership teams are being encouraged to deploy discernment, logic and good old-fashioned gumption. More
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Sam Ellis introduces a series of articles designed to help leaders adapt to a world in which curriculum planning is determined by what you can afford, not what you need.

Coining new terms

When you are walking optimistically towards the light at the end of the tunnel and realise it’s the Trans-Pennine Express heading in your direction, I suppose you go through what the management gurus call a ‘paradigm shift’.

It’s the point where you realise the way you have been working or thinking is 180 degrees out of phase.

I think, for example, the curriculum should serve the wider needs of the students and starting any redesign from financial principles is not something I find easy. Unfortunately, I do think the new paradigm is clear: the curriculum must be determined within the parameters of the available funding. This is a paradigm shift from the times where one happily planned a curriculum and then found ways of affording it.

Dark art

Curriculum planning with a financial ring-fence is a dark art not far removed from timetabling. In the days before local management of schools (LMS), a crusty senior adviser would descend upon your school shortly after the January census – or Form Seven as it was affectionately known – and inform you, on the basis of pupil teacher ratios and roll numbers, exactly how many teaching staff you could employ for the following September.

There was sometimes a little benevolent dictatorship in the sense of the occasional extra member of staff because of a split site or perverse intake numbers. That was only possible because there was total financial control by a central agency called the local education authority.

As a member of the timetable team, my job was to produce a suitable curriculum plan based on the numbers brought down from the mountain top. I recall the exchange with one head where I had the nerve to go back and say that it couldn’t be done with the 62.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff I had been allocated.

His answer was stunningly simple: “The problem, Mr Ellis, is to write a satisfactory timetable for this school using 62.3 FTE staff. Your problem is to do it!” End of discussion. At a later stage, he did offer to help out: “If you need me for the odd period of something, then that will be okay.”

He didn’t make that mistake twice. Taking bottom set year 9 for religious studies at the end of Friday afternoon was an interesting experience for him. Oh, the power of the timetable team.

ASCL Deputy General Secretary Malcolm Trobe and I have constructed a MAPS course called Curriculum Structures: Planning, development, analysis, staffing requirements and cost. Its subtitle is: “What every senior leader should understand even if they never want to develop a curriculum structure, write a timetable or manage a school budget.” This is neither a course on finance nor a course on timetabling but a course on putting general principles into practice for all senior leaders.

The series of columns including and following this one will form of a set of cut-out and keep articles summarising key points from the course. Where spreadsheet or other materials are referred to they will be available on the ASCL website for members.

Pupil-to-teacher ratio

The first point is a repeat of something I have written about on several occasions – the number of teachers you can afford to employ expressed as the pupil-to-teacher ratio (PTR) can be calculated very simply from the revenue funding per pupil, the average teacher cost and the proportion of your revenue budget you can afford to spend on teachers.

The average teacher cost is the salary of all the teachers plus the cost of National Insurance and superannuation (called ‘on cost’) divided by the full-time equivalent number of teachers.

A value near £45,000 may be typical in a secondary school. If you divide this number by the proportion of the budget you can spend on teaching salary plus on cost, say 0.6, the answer would be £75,000. If that answer is divided by the revenue funding per pupil, say £5,000, the answer is the pupil to teacher ratio you can afford.

In this case £75,000 ÷ £5,000 = 15. You can afford a PTR of 15:1. In a school of 900 pupils that would be 60 FTE. The nomogram referred to in the article in the previous issue of Leader does this calculation for those with an aversion to calculators or spreadsheets.

In the new paradigm, 60 FTE represents the initial cost envelope for a curriculum plan.

  • Sam Ellis is ASCL's funding specialist

Next time How do you plan the curriculum from this starting point

Coining new terms