SMARTcurriculum Blog

Why does Curriculum Enhancement (CE) matter?

Contact Ratios and Pupil Teacher Ratios are familiar to most school leaders as measures of classroom resourcing. At the most simplistic level, given that they have been around for a long time and the problems of funding that are now facing schools, one could ask whether the majority of school leaders can interpret them to run the curriculum effectively?  It is well understood that pupil to teacher ratio works well in the 11-16 environment however, it produces challenging results when applied post-16 because there is a significant difference in class sizes (large number of smaller classes) and students not engaged for 100% of the week, which will impact the average ratio across a school, masking inefficiencies in the 11-16 construction.

In the primary sector the simplistic response is that the number of forms of entry determine the number of classes and, where the Pupil Admission Number (PAN) is not divisible by a factor of 30, problems of construction are inevitable. Also, schools that operate nurseries add the additional difficulty that learners are normally not engaged for whole weeks of learning.

Contact Ratio is an interesting figure to consider. It simply describes the percentage of employed teachers who are facing learners at any point in the timetable cycle. It is impacted by the average amount of time each member of staff is actually teaching, relative to the amount of management, PPA and unassigned time they have. Without a baseline, however, there is no measure of how big the curriculum is relative to the number of children in the school.  So, you could have an over inflated curriculum with small classes where the desired 76% of staff are facing learners works but the staff bill will be too large to sustain. In a school with a sixth form, a large nursery or a difficult PAN, these two measures that are used will be difficult to control to determine turnaround strategies.

Why does SMARTcurriculum champion Curriculum Enhancement as an important measure?

SMARTcurriculum Method is focused on what works, what Curriculum Enhancement does is ask the question; “is the planned curriculum the appropriate size for the number of learners within the institution?” Deeper questioning might ask, “can the planned curriculum respond to fluctuations of falling or increasing roll and mid-term admissions?”. SMARTcurriculum model planning assumes a range of solutions, rather than a fixed answer, and does not presuppose any formal structures. The baseline is calculated from a optimal average class size which uses the principle of higher Pupil Teacher Ratios. Read our previous blog in the class size issue.

The percentage range that results is an indicator of the appropriate size of the curriculum, still the contact ratio is a key indicator of the bought staffing to cover this curriculum, but hopefully you can see that measure of the planned curriculum has more impact than the PTR simply because it works across the key stages with different target  class sizes, rather than an all institution average which can hide difficulties in provision.

How does Curriculum Enhancement differ from headroom?

If ‘headroom’ is considered as the surplus teaching bought to add capacity, then it is not a curriculum structural issue but a staffing and deployment strategy to enable blocking of timetables in a secondary school and the reduction of split class teaching. To meet these strategic objectives, typical levels that we see this staffing headroom to be would be 3-5% in a large school and 5-8% in a small school. This is not a measure that helps in curriculum structural design, it actually presents a risk in future planning. Once staff are employed on permanent teacher contracts they will need to be occupied in future years, so the inevitable process will be to create classes to ensure they are used. This is not a substantive position to maintain unless the institution has a high turn over of staff.

Headroom suggests surplus or additions which provide capacity whereas Curriculum Enhancement is focused on pupil numbers and structural strategies with measurable outcomes that can be evaluated. The encouraged narrative being, “We have put this structure here, to resolve this issue, and it can be measured by this outcome.”

Specifics about Contact Ratio (C)

TP Total number of planned teaching periods within a timetable cycle.

FTE– Total Full-Time Equivalent employed teacher roles (planned and covered if not in post)

C = (TP / FTE) x 100%

Typical values range from 60% to 80%. 60% would be very low and 80% would be rare in modern management structures but not unattainable if desired. An optimum level would be between 76 and 78%.

Contact Ratio is calculated as the proportion of a teacher’s time spent teaching, relative to the maximum possible teaching that any teacher can do. Every person who is qualified to teach has the maximum teacher capacity of 90% of the cycle planned. 10% of their time is given to Planning, Preparation and Assessment according to the Standard Teachers Pay and Conditions document some will have training time if they are an NQT or engaged in learning to teach programmes, others will have agreed management time to run elements of the within their responsibility. The contact ratio is an average of these allowances.

Generally, management time is then given as a proportion of teaching time to allow leaders to undertake leadership activities. The maximum of which will be a headteacher who does not teach.

If all teacher taught 90% of the time, then the number of teachers we would need would be less, as many teachers teach less than their full allocation and then the 90% drops. The stated range of desired contact is 76-78%. How this is distributed across the teaching body is entirely up to the school leadership to structure however achieving this ratio is an important factor in managing a school budget.

The truth is you can have a smaller leadership team with more time to lead, or a larger team with less individual time to lead but spread out more. Whichever you select, what results is that Contact Ratio illustrates the percentage of the staff facing learners at any point in the cycle.

Specifics about Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR)

n– Number of pupils on roll

FTE– Total Full-Time Equivalent employed teacher roles (planned and covered if not in post)

PTR = n/FTE

The more teachers we employ the lower the PTR; the fewer teachers employed the higher the PTR. In the modern school there are many strategies employed beyond the traditional one teacher/one class. The question of what the actual capacity of the budget to employ teachers is and where the threshold is, is not deeply examined. The more teachers you have the more professional educators you have in the school (unfortunately that is influenced by the quality of teacher supply around the country) and schools with very large leadership teams relative to the size of the staff, who are given reduced teaching timetables. As we have already said structures that have disproportionate amounts of small classes in specific year groups will mask whole school strategies, and strategic decisions based on a simple ratio can be difficult to justify.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) “Equation of Life” attempts to bring these measures together by making relative comparisons… it does not answer directly the question “Is the curriculum we have created an appropriate or affordable size for the number of children within our school?” It does ask “how many teachers can we afford to buy?” and then designs the curriculum based on this affordability model. What the “equation of life” does do is factor in the relative cost of each teacher so touches the staffing deployment and pay structure that a school has created.

Pupil Teacher Ratio

relates to

Average Teacher Cost / (Revenue available per pupil x Proportion available for teacher expenditure)

relates to

Teacher contact Ratio x Average Class Size


Reference material you might want to review:

ASCL “Equation of Life” by Sam Ellis ASCL Funding Consultant

CST Funding Tool and ICFP Guidance for Executive and Goverance Leaders

DFE Integrated Curriculum and Finance Planning Guidance


Please contact us for more information of SMARTcurriculum and the analysis it can provide info@cj-learning.com or call 0203 701 2854

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