December 2012

The know zone

  • A sixth sense
    Make sure your admissions criteria add up if you want to avoid attracting the wrath of the LGO, warns Richard Bird. More
  • Quids in
    How much teaching does £1 buy? It’s a crude estimate but with finances under increasing scrutiny, it could be a useful starting point for assessing value for money, says Sam Ellis. More
  • The leader as servant
    Janet Nevin is principal of Ashton-under-Lyne Sixth Form College in Lancashire, which was named outstanding school or college of the Year in the 2012 National BTEC Awards. A former part-time Ofsted inspector, she has also researched and reported on the career experiences of women managers in Catholic sixth form colleges. More
  • Red Nose Day 2013
    Red Nose Day is back – a chance for schools and colleges to have some fun, raise money and transform the lives of people in desperate need. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchhill, Indira Gandhi More
  • Adding value
    When budgets are tight, keeping staff healthy ensures your workforce is productive and supply costs are kept to a minimum. More
  • Telling fortunes?
    Will the government’s plan to replace GCSEs with EBacc Certificates have the potential to help raise standards as is intended? Or will it have the opposite effect? More
  • Leaders' Surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Cause for grade concerns
    The ASCL Council meeting in Reading on 11-12 October was dominated by curriculum and qualifications – not just the GCSE English legal challenge, but also proposed changes to GCSE exams and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs). More
  • Supporting success
    Many very capable leaders are put off working in challenging schools because of the vulnerability of the roles. It is better support, not higher pay, that will turn this around, says Brian Lightman. He outlines what an effective support package should look like. More
  • A war of nerves?
    Trying to win over the hearts and minds of potential students and parents is no easy feat – in many aspects it’s as daunting as facing the dreaded Ofsted inspector, says Ross Morrison McGill. More
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How much teaching does £1 buy? It’s a crude estimate but with finances under increasing scrutiny, it could be a useful starting point for assessing value for money, says Sam Ellis.

Quids in?

I no longer go to football matches, as I would rather spend the money on other things. The last time a friend persuaded me to go to a match was several years ago to watch Man U play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The ticket cost me £45, the match was rubbish and to make matters worse Man U lost. But every cloud has a silver lining and at least I got an assembly idea out of the event along the ‘value for money’ theme.

I started with the idea: What do I get for £1? In the case of the Man U game, the basic sum worked out at two minutes of Paul Scholes and co for £1.

I extended the idea to other experiences and came up with estimates like those below for use on the large screen in assembly.

How long
 I get for £1
Going to watch the latest Bond film
8 minutes
Package holiday to spain for a week, including spending money
6 Minutes
Several courses at the local Indian restaurant
5 Minutes
Watching Manchester United
2 Minutes
 Rod 1 Minute

Rod is clearly the most expensive item and invites a little explanation. Rod was the best geography teacher I have ever had the privilege to share a staffroom with and, in my view, was the best value for money on the list without a doubt, even though he was twice the cost of a trip to Man U.

Similarly, the other teaching staff also cost £1 for every minute that pupils spent in lessons, so my question to them was: “Are you making the most of the pound it costs for every minute of your lessons?”

Timetabled minutes

I estimated the cost per minute of Rod, and the rest of the teaching staff , by assuming that the total revenue budget funded either directly or indirectly the periods on the timetable. I calculated the total number of timetabled minutes in a year and divided that into the total revenue budget. I then rounded the answer to the nearest pound. A sobering result when you think about it, even if it is a crude estimate.

This is a fairly simplistic approach to value for money and it falls far short of the intention of the shedload of data on the DfE website at

Five years ago when the only real data was to be found via the schools’ benchmarking website even I, with my interest in numbers, soon turned off from governing body questions about the third decimal place of our pupil–teacher ratio. Whether or not we should modify the pounds per pupil spent on agency costs by some miniscule amount to bring us closer to our statistical neighbours was never at the top of my ‘doing what makes a significant difference’ agenda.

I used to assess value for money in a very subjective manner. When moving around the school on a daily basis I asked myself, “Would I be happy if my own daughters were in this situation?” If the answer to that was not an unqualified “yes” then it was down to me to do something to make sure that that £1 per minute was not being wasted or used inappropriately.

Funding levels are uncertain over the coming years. Being aware of what you get for each pound and finding ways of maximising the value for that pound could well be useful things for the senior team to think through together, especially as the revisions to the new Ofsted framework place far more importance on the monitoring of school finances.

Pupil Premium

This responsibility lies with the leadership and management of schools but especially with governors who are expected to challenge schools on it. Inspectors will look to governing bodies to make sure that they are satisfactorily ensuring that school finances are properly managed and, in particular, they will investigate the governors’ role in deciding how schools use the Pupil Premium.

Since September, schools have been required to publish online information about how they use the Pupil Premium. Inspectors will be looking at the level of premium received in current and previous years, how it has been spent, why, and whether it has made any differences to the learning and progress of pupils as shown by performance data and inspection evidence.

However, although governors are responsible for ensuring that this is done, it is for the senior leadership team to decide how to spend the money effectively and evidence it.

  • Sam Ellis is ASCL's Funding specialist