Going against the flow

This week has been a challenging week as we continue to work with schools with SMARTcurriculum®️. There is no doubt that there are some real concerns about the level of funding available for the education of our children, but again I find myself analysing individual schools where there is little real understanding of the structural implications of the curriculum model they are operating by those making decisions. Even though the examples below are secondary schools, the similar applies to Primary phase with slightly different structures.

By way of example, an 8 form entry (240 pupil) secondary school with a small sixth form, some 90 learners across the two years spoke to me this week. In Year 7 the curriculum model allowed for 11 groups across a normal national curriculum subject design. The school was struggling to balance their budget so I talked through the decisions they had made, to work up a strategy to move forward with.

The additional 3 classes in Year 7 was where we began. Taking into account the average teacher allocation for the school was lower than normal and a contact ratio well below 70% these factor s make this a challenging situation. The number of teachers required to teach these 3 extra classes is 1.4 per group, so require 4.2 teachers. The average salary For the school is £52,000 so with on costs the total would be in the order of £275,000 to fund these extra classes.

There are a number of implications these leadership teams are grappling with:

  1. The area of the country is struggling for quality teachers. So there is a real challenge in designing a curriculum knowing that it is likely that a percentage of the curriculum will be delivered by staff who are likely not to be employed, or at best will be agency staff who are more than likely to be more expensive in the long run and will further destabilise the school as their commitment to ‘the cause’ is not what you want it to be
  2. The pressure that this puts on the whole school is finically huge. Consider if this is a model that is replicated across the whole curriculum design, we are now talking over £1m.
  3. Where this is not a pattern across the school what is created is an uncomfortable rhythm to learning, some year groups with larger groups and others with small groups.
  4. The school is struggling to project a balanced budget and to see how to resource the school. Pressure on the quality of experience that the learners are getting is commented on regularly by many stakeholders. Texts need refreshing, white boards and TVs are getting tired and staff resources are in short supply, computer systems are getting dated and need a refresh.

Any school leader will know that the quality of the education provision is improved as investment in the real resources that matter is possible. So I ask the question- why not look at the way the school is put together to ensure the best spending framework?

The following day I had a conversation with another school leader who described that they had been actively reducing class sizes over a period of time, thus increasing the curriculum build size. However, in analysing results over time, had found no discernible improvement in outcomes and they are now struggling to find the quality of staff to fulfil the structures designed but are now unable to invest in new resources and with maximum pressure on the budget to afford the staffing is a constant concern.

So here I find myself moving against to flow, and unapologetically. Where many are demanding the government release more funding for education I find myself asking how we are spending now and whether is it real value for money. Analysing the financial benchmark site I would suggest, particularly in the secondary phase, over 50% of schools are running curriculum that is larger than the pupil population warrants.

Just consider this, if 50% of schools over-size their curriculum then this will generate the need to employ more teachers than the centrally calculated workforce projections would allow and so thus there are less to go around. Keeping curriculum size under control would help the national position in securing well qualified teaching staff who will stay in the profession. And to note we are not talking about the extremes suggested in the press today with classes of 60, breaking the law in early years.

‘Super-size’ class packs in 67 children

Broadclyst school in Devon has a specially built classroom where 67 children are taught simultaneously. Though unions say such class sizes are detrimental to learning, the school’s head teacher insists pupils are offered an “excellent education.” Jim Wileman

I know this is not popular stuff and why it appears I flow in a different direction to the current narrative. Many will argue that all this is penny pinching and increasing the pressure on teachers. You might gather that I do not agree and we have repeated shown that it becomes unsustainable to add the curriculum time these structures produce. However, and more importantly, releasing the sort of funds illustrated above would mean a significant change in the futures of many children’s lives. The kind of value we are referring to in my analysis? A potential multiple £bn across the country, we could do incredible things with that sort of money, and the impact on the shortage of teaching staff would be significant too.

Throughout my career I have found the direction of flow different from my own, and have worked with some brilliant colleagues with whom I have managed to find synergy and significant impact. Whatever your view, it is worth considering the impact of a new look at how we calculate curriculum modelling and staffing structures. I may be flowing in a different direction but the potential of a change is too important not to dip your toe in and see whether the other direction leads to a different destination.

Contact me at info@smartcurriculum.net if you think its worth a look.


Consider other CJL blog posts related to this subject Pack them in and Return on Investment.