From the magazine: A refined balancing act

As budgets tighten, the utilisation of staff and the accurate forecasting of costs are critical to managing your school’s most valuable resource – your people!

The Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) takes a strategic approach to staffing structures by setting these against a ‘curriculum map’;  in the June/July issue of Education Executive, trust chief executive Stuart Gardener shares their curriculum-based model to balancing financial efficiency and academic attainment.

An ongoing challenge school leaders face is how to improve standards and enhance attainment while reducing costs. The ultimate priority for educators is creating the environment for students to achieve their best and realise their potential, but – especially in times of tighter funding – it’s also crucial to do this in the most efficient way possible. At the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) we’ve developed a curriculum-based financial planning model which has been able to strike this balance. We’ve saved millions of pounds at our schools across Medway and Portsmouth, all while transforming standards and our students’ life chances over a short period of time.

Mapping your curriculum

Our model, which has been in place for three years, allows school leaders to make efficiencies by evaluating the existing staffing structure at each school and setting it against a curriculum map – which shows how many classes will be required for each subject across each year group. This gives leaders a ‘birds’ eye view’ of the staffing resources required to deliver teaching effectively on the agreed pupil-teacher ratio.

Essentially, it enables accurate forecasting of staff for the next academic year; all our secondary schools sent in their curriculum maps and staffing structures at the end of 2017, giving us the time to intervene well in advance – to recruit a new teacher into a subject, or to hold recruitment if not needed. If a member of staff in a particular subject leaves during the year we know whether we need to hire a fulltime replacement, or if makes more sense to take on a teacher on a fixed, short-term contract.

The Victory Academy

For example, the Victory Academy shows that it’s possible to combine rigorous financial planning and rapid educational transformation. When the school was taken over by TSAT, in September 2015, it had been issued a financial notice to improve, which was almost entirely down to a staffing structure that didn’t match its curriculum and was rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted.

Our curriculum-led financial planning model has been at the heart of the school’s transformation – reducing costs by more than £2m over the last three years and improving academic standards. The school is now rated ‘good’ and, in October’s provisional Progress 8 results (+0.44 for all pupils), it was ranked the best non-selective school in Medway, with only three grammar schools ahead of it overall. Reducing costs and raising standards may seem like opposing forces to some, but our model shows they can work in a mutually supportive way.

Of course, our curriculum-based financial planning model may not be the exact path that other academies and trusts choose to go down – different schools have different priorities and circumstances – but the flexibility of the model, in giving trust leaders an overview of the staffing requirements and curriculum needs of their various schools, is something that others can draw great inspiration from.

The model

The following steps are conducted in the autumn term ready to be implemented in the September of the following academic year.

STEP 1: Understand your curriculum aims and pupil numbers
In most secondary schools it’s logistically possible for 30 students to be taught by one teacher; most schools’ published admission numbers (PAN) are divisible by approximately 30 for this very reason. Any allocation over this is a strategic decision on the allocation of finite resources within the school and must be closely linked to an understanding of your curriculum aims and finances available.

Therefore, in Key Stage 3, the minimum number of classes in a year group of 150 would be five. In Key Stage 4 the minimum number of classes in a year group of 150 would be five for core subjects and six for optional subjects – to realistically allow for flexibility of choice for students and keeping all classes below 30.

If school leaders choose to add additional groups/classes above this logistical minimum they need to be clear that this is the best-value way of meeting their curriculum aims.

A rough rule of thumb is that every additional hour of teacher time costs approximately £1,250. This enables school leaders to start to consider if running an additional class is the most cost-efficient way of meeting their curriculum goals. For example, with a PAN of 150, if school leaders decide they want to give Year 11 smaller classes to support outcomes in English and maths they could run six rather than five classes in these subjects at an approximate cost of £25,000.

Alternatively, school leaders may wish to offer the broadest possible curriculum to their students and so decide to allocate additional subjects to the options blocks at an approximate cost of £6,250 per subject. In this instance it’s important to remember that leaders are committed to this additional cost for the length of the course so each subject will cost an additional £12,500 for a two year KS4 and £18,750 for a three year KS4 curriculum. This allows school leaders and governors to make financially-informed decisions about meeting their curriculum aims and consider whether they would rather have the additional English and maths teaching in Year 11 or the two extra options subjects at KS4.

STEP 2: Consider your timetable allocations by subject and year group
The timetable can be delivered in a number of different ways – one week 30 periods; two weeks 60 periods; two weeks 50 periods, etc. – consider what is most appropriate for your school. Also, consider how many periods should be allocated to each subject and year group to meet the curriculum aims outline in step one.

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STEP 3: Map the resource requirements horizontally into a spreadsheet (creating the x axis)
Horizontally list all the subjects that are in your curriculum map by year group showing total cohort size. Within each of the blocks consider how many lessons are required by timetable rotation and how many classes will run. This will equal the resources identified in step two. For example – Year 7 English may need nine periods a fortnight and will have a four-form entry; therefore, to deliver this, the school will need 36 periods of English teaching.

STEP 4: Map all staff who have an ability to deliver the curriculum (teachers, leadership and unqualified) vertically on the spreadsheet (creating the y axis)
Down the vertical axis list every member of staff, grouped by their subject specialism. It’s important to capture every member of staff who could deliver an element of the curriculum resource requirements identified in step three.

STEP 5: Consider how many lessons each member of staff can deliver
Against each member of staff listed in step four consider how many lessons they can teach out of the maximum timetable rotation.

It’s important for schools to have a clear rationale for the appropriate amount of non-contact time for various roles and the cost of any ‘management’ time. A typical middle leader may have an allowance of five hours ‘management’ time at a cost of £6,250 in addition to their teaching and learning resounsibility payment. In a school with 20 members of staff receiving ‘management’ time, if the school leaders chose to reduce management time by one hour, the school would save £25,000.

This is also an important consideration for any timetable allocations that are not classroom-based, such as overseeing an isolation room.

Could any of these activities be more cost-effectively delivered by support staff? For example, a full-time teacher on a 50-period timetable can deliver 45 periods once the 10% planning, preparation and assessment – or PPA – entitlement is removed.

STEP 6: Plot lesson allocation in the grid
Within the grid identify against each member of staff in step five what lessons they will be asked to deliver against the subject. For example – the teacher who can teach 45 periods could deliver 35 periods of English and 10 periods of media studies.

STEP 7: Evaluate the model
Use the spreadsheet to review the following information:

  • pupil-teacher ratio by subject and year group;
  • surplus/deficit time identified by subject;
  • surplus/deficit time by staff member.

Changes could be made at this stage to refine the model that would have the following aims:

  • move the pupil-teacher ratio closer to 30 (25 for practical subjects);
  • minimise surplus time by subject;
  • minimise surplus time by staff member.

STEP 8: Identify the resource implications
The model will have three possible outcomes:

  1. The current staffing structure is still efficient for the curriculum. Here the current staff have minimal surpluses and pupil-teacher ratios are showing at acceptable levels.
  2. The current staffing structure is under-resourced to deliver the future curriculum. This outcome shows that staff will need to be appointed to deliver the curriculum. The model will identify the specific subject requirements and, therefore, it will ensure that, when appointing a new member of staff, s/he is deployed in the most effective way possible.
  3. The current staffing structure is overresourced to deliver the future curriculum. This will show surpluses by subject and staff member and then can be used to either consult on redundancies or as part of a wider redeployment strategy when resignations are received by leadership.
    Modelling this three years in advance will help with staff planning decisions – providing the information required to make informed decisions – and will ensure that any staffing decisions are solely linked to delivery of the curriculum.

This article featured in the June/July issue of Education ExecutiveSubscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.

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