Scalpel or Hatchet

You will not have missed the continuing dialogue concerning challenges in school funding. The varied impassioned reactions of educational leaders and the concerned public to the tightening of school budgets, a story that has maintained prominence for more than a year. For many within the state system, the inevitable cut-backs have been a reality for some time, reading the news over the past months you would be forgiven for believing that the education world is entering a period of melt-down.

The analogies are abundant, ‘swinging the hatchet’, ‘axing teachers’ and ‘swathing cutbacks.’ But how are you responding within your organisation? The scalpel or the hatchet? Hacking at the already woefully slim budget or strategic, surgical trimming. 

It seems inevitable that it is time for a re-think, “How will it remain possible to offer a world-classeducation system with less money to go around?” The truth is, the only way to make the provisions needed is to look at significant structural costs. Staffing will normally constitute 70-80% of an institution’s financial plan, so it is only logical to look here first. But how do we do this without the politically and educationally challenging position of increasing class sizes, or reducing the offer to students? How do we do this necessary work without impacting outcomes?

Digest of the story over the past month:

Schools in England ‘to see first real-terms funding cuts in 20 years’ Guardian 27/02

School leaders urge chancellor to plug education funding shortfall Schools Week 27/02

School funding cuts will damage London’s international reputation, mayor warns TES 24/02

Schools funding: re-think the re-think BBC 23/02

Wilshaw: Schools must adjust to funding cuts after 20 years of ‘largesse’ TES 23/02

Head resigns over school funding crisis BBC 22/02

‘Ministers need to face facts – these cuts will have dire consequences for schools’ TES 21/02

Secondary heads ask parents for help to fight budget cuts BBC 11/02

Governors in West Sussex plan strike over school funding Schools Week 02/02

It seems clear that we have to take an approach that is systematic and structured; this is not about slashing or hacking. Alongside the essential message of continuing to invest in our young people, the profession will need to be more measured and strategic . The net result must still be a world-class provision that is both flexible and personalised for the needs of the families and communities that we serve, but also realistic about what has to be achieved with the resources in the system.

Over the past 10 years we have been working with a significant number of schools making the desirable possible. We have a system-based approach to curriculum design and structural analysis – through review and implementation – which helps you achieve the difficult balance required.

The Curriculum Led Budget Planning methodology, informed by the CJL Curriculum Analysis Tool, develops both the headline budget implications of structural decisions and also a narrative that focuses on the learning journey our students are engaged in. 30 years of experience tells us that its not just about juggling the numbers; there is a whole community of practice to engage and steer. It is not about what we won’t be able to offer, but what we can offer, and how that fits in the learning journey from Early Years to Higher Education.

The curriculum structure is the fundamental framework which ensures delivery of desired outcomes for students and the success of a school. Poor design closes doors to development; good design opens many doors to success. 

However, the curriculum design and related strategies we find in many schools are often under-developed – “that’s the way it has always been done”, “we didn’t think we are allowed to alter it” are often the responses we hear when discussing the route to examinations at whatever level. Recently a CEO commented while engaged in the CJL Review process that “the current NPQH process does little to secure the knowledge and experience of school leaders in this critical area.” Designing and maintaining the curriculum, given this is fundamental to the structure of our schools, is a glaring gap in leadership development.

Many of the recent press articles raise two specific concerns when considering budget cuts:

1 Increasing class sizes and the implied challenge on student outcomes, and

2 The inevitable increase in workload on teachers.

This is an obvious pair of implications when cutting into the budget but, given the detail discussed above, we would suggest that there is a need to ask a specific questions at the beginning of a surgical approach to intervention:

Is the curriculum we have in place the right size and fit for purpose for the number of children we have on roll? 

Having completed over 40 reviews, the evidence we find suggests that there is a need for the Curriculum Review practice in most schools – to build to an annual discipline, interrogating the cost and structure of the curriculum and tailoring it to the needs of the students and school.

Potential reductions schools uncover when undertaking a CJ Learning Curriculum Review typically run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

One measure we examine can be illustrated by the following method: typically each lesson added to a curriculum within a timetable cycle costs in the order of £1000, a whole class added to a timetable within a single year group across a 50 period timetable will cost £50,000. You will see that it does not take much to add significant cost within the structure. Hence our question above – and the necessity to examine the size of the curriculum and its impact on cost.

A major impact of increased accountability measures is the change from threshold methodology (reaching the C boundary) to the progress methodology (where every child’s learning journey matters). The former has resulted in an ‘interventionist” style structure, the practice of paring the curriculum to the bone in Key Stage 3 to throw all we can at Year 11 to achieve the outcome results! This method is evident in many school structures. However, this is counter-intuitive to a “progress oriented” method and design where developing deep understanding and deep learning over time is the key to securing progress toward expected outcomes.

Before you get the knives out, as it is inevitable you will need to do, we believe it is important that you recognise it is time to take a good look at curriculum-led budget modelling methodology.

This will demonstrate the actual cost of your school’s present level of curriculum enhancement and teaching allocations, as well as what a curriculum designed for performance, engagement or bonus can offer – and their relative costs.

Are you prepared for surgical intervention?

If you would like a CJ Learning Curriculum Review in your school or more info, click here, see the ad below, or email Nicky here email.