Case study

Curriculum-led budget planning puts pupil outcomes first

Curriculum-led budget planning at The Weald School allows it to maximise value for money while offering a broad and balanced curriculum.

Image: Headteacher and pupils

The Weald School is a large secondary school in West Sussex. The headteacher, Peter Woodman, takes a data-informed and curriculum-led approach to staff planning. This enables him and his senior leadership team (SLT) to make strategic curriculum changes to help pupils, in spite of a tight budget and recruitment challenges.

Mr Woodman plans his staffing structure one year ahead, in September and October, based on SLT’s view of the ideal curriculum model for the school. To inform its judgment, SLT considers detailed pupil attainment data, which it can see quickly and easily by using a specialist software package.

To plan his staffing structure in detail, Mr Woodman uses a customised spreadsheet. This shows, by year group, the number of subject periods needed and the number of periods for which there are teachers available. Mr Woodman aims for an average contact ratio of 0.8, which he can adjust on the spreadsheet. He can also adjust factors such as pupil numbers and class sizes to ascertain the net level of overstaffing or understaffing by subject. In this way, he can work out the school’s recruitment needs for the following year.

In light of the school’s recruitment needs, Mr Woodman examines the school’s five year budget and benchmarking data. These data include teacher contact time, class sizes and staff costs. Mr Woodman often benchmarks informally with similar schools, and he also benchmarks from year to year within his own school. He then amends his recruitment plans if necessary.

This approach allows Mr Woodman to know the school’s staffing levels and recruitment needs at any given point in the year. He has therefore been able to make strategic curriculum changes to help pupils. He has, 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, Mr Woodman aims to find a balance between SLT’s ideal curriculum and costs that the school can afford. Options he considers 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, the headteacher has 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

The headteacher continually revises his staffing plans throughout the year. He meets his SLT 4 times a week, discussing staffing at almost every meeting. Together, they react quickly to staff turnover and to the school’s success in recruiting teachers, so an effective staffing structure is always in place.

Mr Woodman’s strategic, curriculum-led approach ensures a consistent focus on delivering the best possible curriculum in the most efficient way possible. There is virtually no overstaffing and teachers are flexible in covering for one another when there is sickness absence. Mr Woodman plans well in advance, uses data effectively, and consults regularly with his SLT to meet the school’s staffing needs. He keeps the school within budget while maintaining a focus at all times on pupil needs and outcomes.

Mr Woodman notes that: “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 when it comes to making choices, we can do so in systematic way that makes sure we continue to focus on those areas that will make the biggest differences to our students.”

If you wish to contact The Weald School directly to discuss this case study in more detail, please email Michelle Goodenough.

Published 6 July 2016