Curriculum-led budget planning

Peter Woodman, Headteacher, The Weald School, writes…

The Weald School is a large secondary school in West Sussex, which takes a data-informed and curriculum-led approach to staff planning. This enables us to make curriculum changes that help pupils, in spite of a tight budget and recruitment challenges. We plan our staffing structure one year ahead, in September and October, based on the SLT’s view of the ideal curriculum model for the school. To inform our judgment, SLT considers detailed pupil attainment data, which it can see quickly and easily by using a specialist software package.

A customised spreadsheet helps to fill in the detail. This shows, by year group, the number of subject periods needed and the number of periods for which there are teachers available. We aim for an average contact ratio of 0.8, which we can adjust on the spreadsheet. We can also adjust factors such as pupil numbers and class sizes to find out the net level of overstaffing or understaffing by subject. This facilitates an accurate prediction of the school’s recruitment needs for the following year.

In light of the school’s recruitment needs, we then examine the five-year budget and benchmarking data, which include teacher contact time, class sizes and staff costs. We often benchmark informally with similar schools, and from year to year within the school, and then amend recruitment plans if necessary.

This approach allows us to know the school’s projected staffing levels and recruitment needs at any given point in the year, and make the necessary curriculum changes. We have, for example, been able to:

  • increase the number of maths and English periods in years 7 and 8
  • tailor the curriculum for some pupils by taking them out of lessons in which they are very strong, to give them extra lessons in subjects in which they are weaker.

When faced with budget pressures, obviously we aim to find a balance between our ideal curriculum and the costs that the school can afford. Options we consider include:

  • increasing teacher contact time
  • discontinuing less popular subjects
  • increasing class sizes for certain year or subject groups
  • teaching year groups 12 and 13 together in certain subjects.

This has led to increased class sizes for years 7 and 8 (from 30 to 31), and the discontinuation of ceramics at GCSE and politics at A-level. To ensure affordability in future years, we have also:

  • recruited new intervention teachers on a one-year contract
  • reduced the size of SLT by 2.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts
  • ensured all SLT members teach some classes.

Our staffing plans are continually revised throughout the year. SLT and I meet four times a week, and discuss staffing at almost every meeting. Together, we react quickly to staff turnover and are successful in recruiting teachers, so an effective staffing structure is always in place.

This approach ensures a consistent focus on delivering the best possible curriculum in the most efficient way. There is virtually no overstaffing and teachers are flexible in covering for one another when there is sickness absence.

Finances have been particularly pressured in West Sussex in recent years, so it has been critical that we use those we have as effectively as possible. Our proactive and long-term approach to curriculum planning and timetabling means that we can make choices in a systematic way that keeps the focus on the areas that will make the biggest difference to our students.

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