Boom or Bust

I was talking to my son-in-law the other day about what we do within schools and the SMARTcurriculum work. He, like many outside the education dome, expressed a complete lack of understanding or appreciation of the working of schools. ‘It’s just there – teachers teach classes, don’t they?’ was his response. He had not considered the HR, finance and funding efficiency being part of the conversation; very much part of his everyday consideration in a busy retail shopping outlet.

In developing the conversation a little further, he began to talk of his experience in running a store for one of the country’s leading retail brands. He talked about costed shelf space, measured by the unit centimetre, and how the space given to merchandise is controlled, measured and monitored on a daily basis to maximise revenue. It is not just ‘selling stuff.’
He described how the in-store bakery is allotted a number of staff with defined roles (no pun intended). The counter is a determined size, relative to the selling trends in the community, and the production is carefully monitored to minimise waste, and the unsold surplus, of a product that has a limited shelf-life. The daily processes may be very mundane, but it is monitored and delivered with great care and scientific methodology.
He asked me how schools determine the base measure and why schools put on any number of classes with a fixed grant budget, without any control measures. He was bemused by the fact that, in the retail trade, selling bread was structured more carefully than the delivery in a school. He said it would be completely impossible for a store to extend the shelf to spread the bread out or to employ more than the allotted staff to sell the bread; ‘the store would go bust’ was his confident assertion! And you have to agree that when you look at the modern retail store the shelves are packed and no space is left unused for long, if ever. The automation of the processes is a whole other conversation!
How does this relate to SMARTcurriculum? Well its the understanding of the basic provision that I have described before; the minimum funded provision with average classes of 27 across a year group, generating a number of teaching periods per cycle for a year group that contains a range of subject disciplines and specialist staff. This is the basic structure that the grant funding provides. The schools that have no measure of what that looks like and no reference point to come back to or demonstrate how ‘enhanced’ their curriculum is, are moving into dangerous ground and, in the words of my son-in-law, ‘they’ll go bust”.
The truth of the SMARTcurriculum Method is that there is shelf space to expand- and we know that it is about 8% of provision above the basic ‘shelf length’. Careful use of this space, applied where it is needed, will do wonders for results and community development. These are the tricks being learned by the great schools who are applying the resources they have, where they need them. If you consider a school may have a provision of 4000 hours of learning over a whole school, 8% of that provision could be as much as 320 hours of learning to add to the structure. That is useful time, and in a school working a 50period cycle that is over 6 whole classes (not that that is probably the way it would be used). We can apply this to the use of Teaching Assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants too- capturing the work they do to ensure measured impact and outcomes is a whole new world for many.
Please contact us for more information of SMARTcurriculum and the analysis it can provide

The eternal round

Once you have considered the Curriculum Enhancement value, we then need to consider how much curriculum is too much; how we can control it; and what influences the amount that we plan in?

In the example used in the recent blog Return on Investment, we showed that the basic curriculum design is based on the principles described of optimised class sizes and efficient delivery. Curriculum Enhancement is the decision to add teaching hours for a variety of reasons. How much can we add? This is a question that is open to proof of impact and conjecture about appropriateness. Within existing models, the quantity of Curriculum Enhancement within trusts and teaching organisations advice generally has a maximum threshold assessed to be an 8% maximum to remain affordable within current funding. This enables investment across all year groups to support curriculum growth, deep learning, population variation and the breadth of subjects curriculum offers. 
Our analysis of the new national benchmarking data leads us to a suggest that the average Secondary school has a curriculum structure that is typically enhanced to 50% above that Basic Provision, this translates into a 4 form entry school offering a curriculum fit for 6 forms of entry (Primary schools enhance their curriculum far less, but still often over the 8%.) Based on the work we have done in on-the-ground curriculum analysis this is not far from the actual practice we find.
Once designed, the job of appointing a staff team to deliver this is begun. A staffing profile and leadership structure are often the first steps new heads take on in a new school. Staff teaching allocations are set to provide capacity to do the job and we end with a teaching requirement for the collective staff body and a teacher availability that will resource the curriculum. Here a level of enhancement or headroom is also allowed for; often an amount of bought teaching time above the required. 
Let me describe a journey. A basic curriculum is designed and delivered, staff are employed and modest surplus is engaged. Leaders see this surplus and a convenient extra set of classes is planned ‘because we have the staff.’ Next year the extra class is left in place because it has become ‘essential practice’, new staff are appointed, and a similar surplus is engaged. We now have an enhanced curriculum and the staffing surplus looks no larger than previously appointed. The capacity for adding more groups is accepted as possible, repeating practice undertaken previously. The third year the further enhanced curriculum remains and a further set of appointments are made and an identical surplus is employed. So, the cycle continues: the curriculum grows, the practice becomes common and accepted, but with no comparison to a Basic Provision and the staffing budget becomes unsustainable but the curriculum provision is embedded and accepted as normal.
What is acceptable enhancement? At this time the understanding is that 8% curriculum enhancement is an acceptable threshold. My experience tells me this is generous  and is likely to drop to 5% over coming years unless there is more money in the system, or there is a review of the structures of staff remuneration. What is acceptable staffing surplus? I believe this should be measured according to the size of the school. From experience, schools up to 6 forms of entry can cope with 5-8% surplus staffing with a controlled curriculum size; schools above 6 forms of entry will manage with 3-5% surplus staffing. 
Many Primary schools work with 0-3% surplus staffing, but we really need to understand the curriculum provision and the leadership structure to ensure what accommodations have been embedded from previous surplus time. The impact of less surplus in a secondary school is the same, although they also have the dimension of teacher deployment to groups where the surplus gives the Timetabler the capacity to place groups of lessons and reduce the number of groups taught by multiple teachers. All of these impacts are focused on great teaching and quality of provision.
Hopefully it is now clear why both a comparison with Basic Curriculum and measuring Enhancement are important. The depth of understanding of these factors is not widely held and links to budget and staffing profiling are sadly lacking. So, before you make the next likeforlike appointment, make sure you have a clear indication of what the provision is and what enhancement this will bring to your organisation. 
Again, great reading: EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit on Reducing Class Size (verdict: modest impact at high cost.) Consider the comparative cost and impact of One to One tuition (verdict: modest impact at high cost) and Mentoring (verdict: low or no impact for moderate cost.) In each case it’s worth noting the research base for each element. As Prof. Coe suggests there is often poor basis for the axioms discussed across the education sector. At least this is improving with the drive to evidence based education.
Please contact us for more information of SMARTcurriculum and the analysis it can provide


Return on investment

Our recent blog post Magnificent Seven’ outlined the seven measures used within the Integrated Curriculum Finance Planning (ICFP) indicators of school efficiency. I just want to take a moment to consider a measure that many are grappling with and some feel has little, or even negative impact, on a school. I will say at the beginning that I believe it can be one of the most powerful indicators of a schools capacity for improvement, but then again, I would! 
I have defined this important measure as Curriculum Enhancement – an indicator of curriculum size compared to a basic provision, where the average class size across a year group is 27 for 416 yearold learners and 17 in a group for Post 16 learners. Other systems call this measure ‘Headroom’ or ‘Bonus, both of which to me lead to a value judgement and almost an enforced alternative of intervention when things don’t go to plan, whereas ‘Enhancement’ speaks of a strategic decision to act above and beyond the normal where is it possible and within the budget. If we were to organise so that all classes had the optimum number of children in them, then the Basic Provision is the number of sessions taught in a timetable cycle providing for these learners. Calculated by the total number of learners in the establishment divided by the optimum number of learners in a class and multiplied by the number of sessions within a cycle. 
  • Example One – A school capacity of 1200 pupils would have a ‘Basic Curriculum’ as a typical Secondary 11-16 organisation. (Based on a 25hour week)

1200 learners/27 x 25 = 1111 hours 

  • Example Two – A school capacity of 420 pupils would have a ‘Basic Curriculum’ as a big Primary 4-11 organisation. (Based on a 25hour week) 

420 learners/27 x 25 = 389 hours

In Example One should we find the actual curriculum model has 1300 teaching sessions (hours) then the curriculum is enhanced by 189 sessions. This curriculum would be described as 17% enhanced, structurally 189 teaching lessons will have been modelled to deliver the goals of the leaders.

In Example Two should we find the actual delivery model has 409 hours, but the roll is actually 210 then the enhancement will be 80%. This school has one too many classes in each year group possibly due to falling roll and needs to consider the structural setup of the school to ensure affordability.  

Then if we consider the cost of each session, normally calculated within most schools as around £1900 per hour per week across the year, then the indicative cost of the curriculum enhancement can be projected. In Example One the cost would be £359,100 and in Example Two £399,000. This is the cost of putting teaching staff in the classroom to deliver these sessions. Now the judgement has to be made as to whether this can be afforded and whether it delivers the strategy for which it represents. Both of these figures are real and can make significant impact on deficit reduction on one side and significant ability to invest in learning on the other.

This is the reason we talk of efficient, effective and ethical curriculum. I would ask whether this level of funding is essential for the strategy it represents. The truth is that there will be all sorts of reasons why some of the enhancement is needed but the question is how much is affordable within the budget and is it delivering the outcomes that this level of investment would warrant? Only you can answer that question, but it becomes real when you are able to explore the level of enhancement against the cost of delivery. No other method gives the clarity or ‘return on investment’ analysis. 
Just a quick thought. Have you ever considered that the gained time after a Year 11 finish their exam season could be costing a school over £1M in unused teaching time? £1900 x 50 periods x 400 periods for an 8 form school x 5 weeks between the end of the exams and the end of the year. Gainfully used development time?
Have you explored your curriculum provision against a Basic Curriculum measure, or have you looked at what you think you should provide from an educational perspective? The Curriculum Enhancement metric will get you thinking about purpose, investment and intent.
Please contact us for more information of SMARTcurriculum and the analysis it can provide

Hatchet or Scalpel- developing a different narrative

You may not have seen our recent post in the Confederation of School Trusts . The goal is to develop a different narrative in the world of funding challenges toward an investment frame rather than a deficit frame.

‘We do not have enough to carry on doing what we have always done, but rather we are investing on our children and we have an opportunity to do this”

Your comments are welcome.

Contact us if you are looking for ICFP help or Curriculum Review-

The Eleventh Hour

We have observed, while analysing curriculum design over many years, that school leaders tend to invest time and resources at particular thresholds in a learner’s journey throughout their education. Over recent years much has been said about intervention strategies, which in layman’s terms means that we throw time and resources near to examination thresholds to ensure learners are ready for the tests, or at least achieve appropriate outcomes. 
This practise, I am going to call an attainment or threshold mindset,’ focuses on curriculum provision towards the end of a learning cycle. This practise can be observed in primary schools in years 5 and 6, in secondary schools in years 10 and 11 and all through post 16 education.  When looking at curriculum enhancement, the measure of curriculum size above a basic curriculum with the normalised average class size, intervention strategies focus on reducing this class size by increasing numbers of groups. Another, maybe slightly contentious, way to look at this style of intervention is to consider what hasn’t been done previously that demands it’s inclusion, so the question is asked “is this threshold focused curriculum enhancement the most productive use of time and if not, where would the best place be to put enhancement time and resource?” 
SMARTcurriculum App image of all-through threshold focused curriculum.
So typical in a primary sector we will see that at Year 6 lots of back filling of skills and knowledge and exam practice is put in place as you come up to the Key Stage 2 testing. Similarly, we see, for slightly different reasons, the same appearing in the secondary sector around years 10 and 11. This is typically around the options process (course selection) where learners are moving from generalised to personalised education, alongside very lean curriculum in Years 7 to 9. While learners are making decisions about themselves and to achieve the breadth of curriculum more classes are put on than can be afforded as well as adding class groups to the core delivery (English, Maths and Science) to ensure results are achieved
What is seen in curriculum analysis is that where those thresholds of attainment come, there tends to be a excess of resource. This attainment or threshold mindset becomes a practice that is hard to break. 
For example: If we consider a school of 594 pupils with a 50 period, 2-week cycle would require 1100 teaching periods as a basic curriculum. To enhance this curriculum up to 8% would involve 88 additional teaching periods. The threshold mindset might put all of these in key stage 4 by reducing class size or broadening the curriculum as we have described above. Another view would be to consider more strategically where these 88 periods might be alternately used, which might be much earlier in the school structure. 
What would a curriculum look like if we analysed it with a progress mindset? Where would we invest time to be more effective if we had the opportunity to leave the thresholds and move away from the threshold mindset to a progress focused curriculum? Most leaders that we have spoken to will say to put it early in the learning journey and establish great learning behaviours is the most effective use of time. If we could change our mindset to progress focused from threshold focused, maybe we would have the resource to invest differently.
So, if you are going to invest time differently and you had time to invest, where would you place it? Without question most education leaders would say at the beginning and in the early stages. There is beginning to be that understanding of the whole learning journey; the need to concentrate on primary education and get it right there to establish great behaviours for later. Well maybe this enhancement question could help answer some of that. Are we putting in too much time, too late in the journey? Put your resource at the beginning and then see the reaping of those rewards as the learning continues.
Please contact us for more information of SMARTcurriculum and the analysis it can provide

The Magnificent Seven

In an attempt to define Integrated Curriculum Finance Planning (ICFP), the Department for Education (DFE) originally outlined 7 measures that would make a significant difference in managing an establishment budget. Today this has been extended to 10 planning checks (Link here). You may be familiar with other systems that use a combination of these metrics outlined below. The only one missing from these lists is the curriculum measure that I call Curriculum Enhancement, referred to as ‘Bonus’ or ‘Headroom’ in other narratives. I will walk through enhancement separately but lets take a quick look at these ‘big hitters’ and determine why they matter and discuss what difference they can make:

  • Teacher Contact Ratio – Calculated as the percentage of employed teaching staff facing learners at any point in the planned curriculum cycle. Often expressed as a decimal, the number quoted by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and others who have been observing typical contact ratio, is suggested to be optimal at around 0.76 or 76%. Planning, Preparation and Assessment time (PPA) has been factored into this measure. Clearly accounting for PPA alone would generate a higher contact ratio (90%). So this measure includes the level of leadership and management time added to enable the processes of school to be undertaken. The proportion is often increased by surplus teaching time, unallocated time that is ‘bought’ when a good member of staff is found in a recruitment process and you cannot let them out of the door without a signed contract! Clearly the more staff you buy for the curriculum that is planned, the lower the contact ratio. However this measure alone can be deceptive; if the curriculum is too big for the number of learners on roll, the contact ratio will not be a good indicator of efficiency; just a measure of current practice. It might be optimum for any curriculum, but it will still be too expensive for the budget to maintain if the curriculum size is not controlled.
  • Learner (Pupil) Teacher Ratio – The number of learners in the establishment for every teacher employed. Clearly more teaching staff with reduced teaching load will require more teachers to cover the curriculum provision. So the structure of the senior and middle leadership will greatly impact this figure. Again it is a feature that is influenced by a number of factors and does not tell a leader how to manage the delivery mechanisms of any establishment because it can move your attention away from the key business. Its not just about how many staff you have, it is about what they are doing and how they impact the core business of the establishment.
  • Average Class Size – This can be a contentious metric and has many implications for curriculum design across the phases. Educationally, many will quote anecdotal professional understanding that suggests small class sizes are imperative for improving establishment performance, particularly in challenging situations. Others will quote that educational research suggests smaller class sizes have no significant impact on outcomes. The funding model, from which Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) or Per Pupil Funding (PPF) is generated, assumes that the average class size is 27 in Key Stage 1 to 4. For Post 16 classes it would be assumed that this is not appropriate in every case and pre-school requires different organisational structures with differently qualified staff. The last DfE paper (dated 2011) suggests that across the phases, class sizes in primary average around 27; in secondary between 20 and 24; and Post 16 drops to around 11 learners. The popular narrative about the ills of raising class sizes, I believe, really only has merit where it becomes extreme. However, there is a limiting factor: the Pupil Admission Number (PAN). In our work with establishments the major influencer on class size is the PAN that is agreed with the local authority. What do you do if the in a twoform entry Primary school where the PAN is set at 72? Do you run two classes at 36 or three classes at 24? The latter will require nearly 10 more teaching staff; the cost to the budget being enormous. There is also a growing narrative about where to place ‘curriculum enhancement’ the benefit of enhanced resourcing. Typically it can be seen at test thresholds – what I would call an ‘attainment mindset’, whilst the alternative is to invest time earlier in the learning journey to embed great learning practice – what I call a ‘progress mindset.’ There is much more to discuss on this, but that comes later. 
  • Average Teacher Cost ) – Cost, not salary, measures include all employment on-costs and should consider the cost of covering for absent staff (illness and in service training.) Clearly this is affected by region, due to heavy urban costs and allowances, however, this is not the only issue. The major impact on this will be the stability of the teaching staff. A more stable staff where large numbers have passed the threshold assessment will mean Upper Pay Scale (UPS) for many. With large numbers of these staff also receiving Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) allowancesoften used to retain staffingthis becomes a considerable cost factor. The structure of an establishment and the need to retain good staff impacts this measure and influences cost tremendously. 
  • Percentage of expenditure on teaching staff as a proportion of the Grant Income. Some will also be keen to analyse this as a proportion of Total Income. It is important, whichever analysis is used, that an understanding of the total cost as a proportion of income is embedded in our view of how many staff we employ to facilitate the curriculum. As we will see in a moment with pupil adult ratio and understanding of the total employment aspect of a institution, spend is key to controlling the budget. When this constitutes between 80-90% of the spending, any real efficiencies have to be focused here rather than on the other 10-20%. Focusing on grant income is in effect looking at the substantive element of the income; everything else is variable and relies on the character of the establishment. If this alters it opens all sorts of issues!
  • Senior leadership Full Time Equivalent (FTE) as a percentage of total teacher FTE. This is the proportion of the staff who are employed to focus on leading and managing the establishment. We  will discuss this in more depth in a future blog. 
  • Learner (Pupil) Adult Ratio This metric includes the FTE of all staff including teaching, support and ancillary staff.  This metric focuses on the number of adults who bring the full service delivery within an education establishment and brings an interesting analysis of how to create a culture of learning.

Just as an aside, I am often asked to explain why it takes 1.4 teachers to cover a ‘class’ in any establishment, it is because for every group of learners who are actively taught for a whole week or cycle the teachers required to cover the time will always be more than one person because each teacher is entitled to 10% PPA time, some will have additional leadership responsibilities, all of which reduces the average teaching load. If it is typically around 72% then there is a requirement of 1.38 teachers for every whole class. The value of this is self evident: multiply 1.4 teachers by the average cost of a teacher in your establishment and you will see the actual cost of delivering this class.

The main question that I am often left to answer, after all the above metrics are in place, is whether the actual curriculum (structured, planned and delivered) is the appropriate size for the number of learners funded within the institution. Clearly this will impact the average class size, the learner to teacher ratio, the number of staff employed to deliver (as controlled by the teacher contact ratio), and the proportion of staff to learner, but is often not given the prominence it should have in curriculum planning, leaving a major disconnect between these seven measures and actual practice. All of the metrics above give clear indication of efficiency and spend; however I strongly believe we have to understand the context in which they operate as a whole to be really effective.

Contact us on 0203 7012854 or if we can support you in any way to deliver efficient effective  and ethical curriculum.

Chris Jones – CEO CJ Learning and CJ Learning Technologies

Dream the Impossible Dream

ICFP, Integrated Curriculum Finance Planning, coined by Kate Copley a Deputy Director within the Department for Education (DFE), is the term that the DFE is now using to describe a process that has had a number of names in recent years. Some will recognise ‘Curriculum Led Finance Planning’ (CLFP) used by Outward Grange Academy Trust (OGAT) and various NPQH/NPQEL providers to describe a process. OGAT developed a practice within their academies, under the leadership of Sir Michael Wilkins and now Martyn Oliver, within their school improvement arsenal focussed on ensuring establishments ran within budget and were capable of investing finances in education practices. Other Multi Academy Trusts (MATS) have worked on developing similar methodologies, to ensure budget control using spreadsheet based analysis of metrics. 
To explore ICFP a little further let us look at some principles. For an education establishment to work it must buy sufficient staff to deliver the curriculum it has designed. Establishing the shape and size of the required staffing around the curriculum provision which is right and affordable for the number of children within the school determines the principle of ‘Curriculum Led’ or ‘Integrated Curriculum and Finance Planning.’ The impossible dream of achieving both broad and balanced curriculum and financial control is possible and hence the process we call SMARTcurriculum
If we accept that staffing is the largest expense (usually 80% of total cost in the secondary sector and 90% in the Primary) because we buy the staffing to deliver the curriculum that we design, then gaining a good understanding of the curriculum size is key to controlling the budget with all the moral purpose and breadth that it should contain. Of course there are factors that impact the provision; leadership and management time to control the quality of delivery; issues around the number of learners within the establishment (the Pupil Admission Number) often set without any understanding of the implications to efficiency; falling and increasing roll and local competition for places within the and; the building contract provision with the Private Funded Initiative (PFI) where some staff are contracted through external services, often the company that is providing the service contract.

So, what we come to is the main question what are the measures that we use to control the key spending in an establishment?” The definition laid out by the Department for Education ICFP team includes some key purposes and 7 metrics. 

Key Purposes

  • Establishing a strategic plan looking several years ahead.
  • Identifying a curriculum to meet learners needs based on pupil data.
  • Refining this through whole team discussion including business professionals.
  • Making decisions based on key data/metrics.
  • Bench-marking these against establishments in similar circumstances.
  • Re-iterating these until there is a curriculum that is affordable.

The Metrics

  1. Teacher Contact Ratio
  1. Learner (Pupil) Teacher Ratio
  1. Average Class Size
  1. Average Teacher Cost
  1. Percentage of expenditure on teaching staff
  1. Senior Leadership FTE (Full Time Equivalent) as a percentage of total teaching FTE
  1. Learner (Pupil) Adult Ratio (i.e. All staff FTE)
There will be many other metrics that impact on each of the seven factors above, the key is to understand them and consider the elements that impact them.
What matters and what determines the major spend? The major impact is the size of the curriculum as this determines the major cost of running an establishment. Failing to understand its impact or relying on legacy or historical structures is making a major impact on our current funding pressures. This resultant practice is described by its title, ‘Integrated Curriculum and Finance Planning’ and will impact the major spend for any educational organisation. The outcome cannot be understated; the goal of a balanced budget is not such an impossible dream!

A balance of three

For the past 10 years I have been working on school efficiency, particularly in the area of curriculum design and provision. As a result of that work I would suggest that there are three characteristics of curriculum design that need to be held in balance at every phase.

  1. Efficient (can we afford it?),
  2. Effective (does it do the necessary job?) and,
  3. Ethical ( does it do what we need it to do?)

What we have found is that where any of these are removed the balance is lost and the whole education and consequently the learner suffers. Where one or two are over-emphasised the balance is lost and the education as a whole is poorer as a result. Much of the rhetoric around at the moment is shouting about what can we afford- or  more specifically we can’t afford, and as a result we are in a climate where cutting the provision or expecting others to pay is the result. We see examples of where parents are being asked to pay for more or cuts are announced with some regularity. Toilet paper, pencils on the one hand teaching assistants and Arts classes on the other with many more examples.

Here is just one recent example, understandable in one way, concerning in another. The truth being that parents buying these essentials would not save the kind of money that is suggested. Now, we can put that down to sensationalised reporting, but sadly our experience tells us that this is all too often what is being done, scratching at the issue with a lack of real impact.

BBC News June 2018

The truth is that curriculum provision in all schools is in a battle to stay in balance. The pressure to be effective is the over-riding concern and so specific decisions are made within the capacity of the workforce at any point in time. The challenge- keeping all three imperatives in balance within a system that has not changed for many years and with a resource base that is becoming far more thin to spread (teaching staff and funding). The resolution- it goes back to a previous article – Hatchet or Scalpel – the answer is a establishing the methodologies that will maintain a balance of the three.

The challenge all school leadership bodies face is that designing a full curriculum provision has to hold the importance of all three.

  1. An efficient curriculum is the size and shape that is right for the funding provided, based on the number of children in the building and their local needs and characteristics.
  2. An effective curriculum meets all of the accountability standards set by the state system or parental expectations and it delivers! And having the right teachers doing the right things to enable the learners to be successful- however we measure it.
  3. An ethical curriculum balances what is right for young learners face in the new worlds ahead of them, covering all that will set them up for a long, fulfilling and prosperous future.

It is easy to be critical and that is not the intention of this discussion, it is a difficult set of criteria to balance. I applaud the professionals that make it work in their context, genuinely. I believe that because of it’s nature this will look different in the many contexts across the country. I might suggest a few things that fit this triad of considerations, I know there are many more and this is not intended to be simplistic, but just to pose a few things that impact the dialogue,

  1. The changes in roll size, the fluctuating birth rate or less than stable reputation of individual institutions means that the size of the school needs to respond or adapt. How can we be adaptive and responsive to these fluctuations other carrying on as normal? The breadth of curriculum able to be offered may, in the secondary sector particularly, mean small class sizes that become expensive to deliver or we simply cut out less populated subjects- arts, creativity and technology. What can we do to maintain the range of offers without providing a one-size-fits-all provision.
  2. The drive for accountability and standards, right as it is, means that decisions are often made focussing on the reputation of the institution ahead of what is right for the learners. Ouch, (sorry to be blunt) but my experience tells me that many feel this is an inevitability and I maintain that does not necessarily have to be the only reality. Performance table outcomes can drive the shape of the curriculum rather than the many and varied needs and aspirations of learners and the economic future of their communities, its a many facetted jewel that should not be prescribed by success promising ‘quick fixes’. Also it seems to happen as much at Key Stage 2 as it does at Key Stage 4- sadly, concentrating alone on the tested outcomes. Compliance to the norm is the key and for the  ‘sorry if you don’t fit’ we create ‘alternative curriculum provision’ with different accountability measures! Or different types of schools that don’t satisfy the accountability measures so can’t be seen to succeed, although they have exciting and brilliant curriculum offers for young  learners.
  3. What is right, fun and valuable are left aside so often from what is needed. ‘We haven’t got time for this and that’ are statements heard before ‘We believe this is really valuable for our learners.’ Physical Education leaves the timetable because, ‘what’s the point when they will be removed for revision classes anyway later in the year!’ ‘The course has no outcome result so it’s not needed’

I know this is not the place to sell products and that’s not my intention. We are finding that in the ICFP arena (Integrated Curriculum and Financial Planning) efficiency is a major driver, but we created SMARTcurriculum Method to open a conversation about the balance of all three imperatives. We believe It is about making the educational provision efficient, but also effective and an ethical provision that is right for our learners future, so that they are instilled with that love of learning, inquisitive and capable.

If you would like to talk further about SMARTcurriculum Method or are interested in using the SMARTcurriculum Application please contact us at Find information about the online application at SMARTcurriculum Application.

Chris Jones, CEO CJ Learning and CJ Learning Technologies.

Autumn MAT briefing and workshop: from aspiration to implementation

‎Tue‎ ‎18‎ ‎Sep  |  AQA

Free event for MAT CEOs, COOs and senior MAT leaders. Sessions led by the Regional Schools Commissioner, David Ross Education Trust, Smart Curriculum, AQA, Arbor Education, Judicium, CJK Associates

Time & Location
‎18‎ ‎Sep‎ ‎10‎:‎00 – ‎15‎:‎00
AQA, Stag Hill House, Guildford GU2 7XJ, UK

About The Event


10.00-10.15 Welcome and introductions: Chris Kirk (CJK Associates) and Angela Whitnall (AQA)

10.15-10.45 MAT strategy: from aspiration to implementation

In this interactive session, Chris Kirk, Director of CJK Associates, discusses how different MATs have defined their strategies, and reorganised governance, structures, capabilities and services in order to deliver them. He highlights some of the common pitfalls, and promising practices. Chris draws on academic research with Ambition School Leadership, insights from supporting over a dozen MATs on this journey, and first hand experience as a former CEO within the GEMS Education Group. MATs will have access to some of CJK Associates’ tools and templates to explore and discuss their own strategy and operating model.

10.45- 11.30 A CEO’s view

Rowena Hackwood, CEO of David Ross Education Trust, explains the journey that this MAT has been on. This large trust has made significant changes to both its educational, and its operational services. The Trust has had to make many difficult choices about autonomy and standardisation along the way. Rowena will set out the lessons she feels can be learned from this, as well the signs of success.

11.30-12.00 Working smarter not harder

Chris Jones explains the SMART Curriculum method, which a large number of schools and MATs have used to help refine their curriculum, ensuring investment is being focused where it’s needed. Chris will discuss specific implications for Primary, Secondary and Special schools.

12.00-12.45 Networking lunch

12.45-13.15 Update from the Regional School Commissioner’s Office, with Q&A

Maria Dawes, Deputy RSC for the South East, sets out the latest views and expectations from DFE as we commence the 2018/19 term. She will draw on her personal experience as a teacher and school leader, and her work on school improvement, as well as the work she has seen in MATs around the region.

13.15-13.45 Dos and don’ts of changing MAT structures: an HR and legal perspective

Alex Mehta, Director of Judicium, will discuss examples of ways in which MATs have restructured operations and education activity, highlighting some of the common issues, and how to get the best outcome for students, staff and the community from a MAT restructure. Judicium’s clients include NAHT, as well as thousands of schools and a large number of MATs.

13.45- 14.30 Balancing autonomy and standardisation in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment

For this topic we will spilt into two groups, one with a Primary focus and one with a Secondary focus

Primary MATs:

James Weatherill from Arbor Education will lead a debate on whether and how to standardise formative & summative assessments, what to give the schools discretion over, as well as what role baselines and other standardised tests play in triangulating pupil progress.

Secondary MATs:

Many MATs are considering what support they need from Awarding Organisations, including whether to align their AO across Academies. Angela Whitnall from AQA will present insights from recent research with a selection of MATs, and highlight the questions MATs could be asking themselves. Ange will explain how AQA is adapting its support proposition for KS 4 & 5 as a result of the findings. There will be the opportunity to discuss and ask questions during/after the presentation.

14.30-15.00 Panel discussion and conclusions

Chris Kirk will facilitate a panel and whole group discussion about key conclusions, questions, and hot topics for the next event.

Community of Practice

Over recent posts I have presented the rationale behind the SMARTcurriculum methodology, practice which has resulted in the creation of the SMARTcurriculum Tool providing the data to informs decisions about curriculum size, character and flow through a school.

I now want to turn attention to the fact that, when working within schools, development practice often is validated by or formed around the question “What are other people doing?” An all too understandable question, sadly because there is no real knowledge base in the subject area, but is also prompted by a a general lack of confidence in the reasoning and rationale behind curriculum. Wouldn’t it be great to have a source where the current experience and tools are focussed on evidentce to inform all practicioners with relevant up to date information about the subject and the real picture of what is happening in relative size establishments.

There is very much a conversation at present about the establishment of a on budget curriculum, but what measures impact the finances enough to be sure the budget is balanced?

Is is right to fill the classes to their maximum in every case feeling justified by the evidence that small classes do not have significant impact on improving results? Would this decision be best be monitored and modelled so that the context of each institution and trust can respond to needs as they face them.

What impact does the teacher allocation have on a school, giving more time to planning preparation and assessment is important but more time needs more staff and costs increase, so where is the sweet point and what is right across the system? What impact do different delivery models have in efficiency and styling? How much time is needed to lead and support school staff?

All of these questions resolve themselves in local areas by leaders discussing through a variety of forums. The wise understand the contextual implications of the raw data and manage the information with deeper understanding. The journey we identify here is the purpose of that information.

CJL Community of Practice

The four stage process that begins with balancing the budget, not mutually exclusive the success of the students is the second dimension of curriculum design, thirdly in school change design balanced budget and successful students reinforces the message about the institution within a community and becomes a “school of choice” all of these lead to the capacity to invest in students, to enhance the curriculum resulting in enrichment.

The result of the work CJ Learning has been doing is about getting to enriched curriculum, schools becoming those ‘of choice’ in their community, children being successful and on budget.

Recently, working with a London school, having done significant work to on the curriculum through SMARTcurriculum methodology, the school rationalised over £600k and made significant savings, in modelling this year it was possible to consider investment in staff, not to increase staff loading, and consider strategic placement of classes so as not to increase class sizes or to reduce the breadth of subjects within the curriculum. The methodology at its best. We could not be happier to discuss how to be investing in the future of our young people.

The community of practice becomes a powerful knowledge base where real data is shared, compared and understood.

CJ Learning provides curriculum consultancy delivered through the SMARTcurriculum methodology. CJ Learning Technologies provides the SMARTcurriculum Tool and online measurement of your curriculum and its development providing key metrics and comparisons.

Contact us for details here.

Partnership is the new strength

For over 30 years, we have worked in the education sector delivering curriculum design and practices to sustain school structures and budgets. This has become more challenging recently as the core costs increase but the funding stands still or, in recent days, appears to decrease in relative terms.

Leading efficient and effective curriculum is further challenged by the teacher supply and the requirements to respond to performance measures without real strategic lead in their resulting implications for institutions and groups.

We at CJ Learning have developed a tool to support schools, academies and colleges, at every phase, to understand the metrics of curriculum design, staffing and finance – which we call SMARTcurriculum.

Curriculum Analysis

The Curriculum Analysis Tool (CAT©) supports the delivery of efficient and effective curriculum. Curriculum Led Finance Planning is the term many are using to describe the process of calculating core costs, lesson costs in terms of teachers (the most expensive element), support costs, and a profile of a student’s journey through the organisation.

Working in partnership with technology specialists Krescendo, using their LiveDataset online software, we have developed the CAT as a secure cloud-based system for you to snap-shot your current curriculum and staffing profile and re-imagine and remodel an alternative structure.

LiveDataset is used by several of the world’s leading banks and has ISO 27001 certification for security. Read the new Krescendo blog introducing the CAT.

Please read about CAT here [] and contact us to arrange a conversation about bringing your MAT or school into the SMARTcurriculum world at

Being smart about curriculum

Leading Quality in the CurriculumEncouraging Curriculum Dialogue
Author: Chris Jones, Managing Director CJ Learning Community

We are constantly reminded that the leadership of state (and privately) funded education needs to be more accountable; money needs to be efficiently spent and outcomes need to demonstrate appropriate progress and high aspirations.

Current reading will find anyone interested in schooling aware of the challenge to ‘raise standards’, ‘raise expectations’ and have ‘increased aspirations’ for our young learners. The need for rapidity of change has naturally resulted in practices often being borrowed or replicated because they are ‘used elsewhere’ without the necessary deep or developed understanding of why they were used in their initial context. Surely best practice development is rooted in proven methodology, highly tailored to a current situation or context. My preposition is that ‘to understand is as to improve.’

18CA4079-C8BB-4A0C-AF56-C3E83052D24DA sad result of the constant changes we have experienced in recent years, I fear, is that new teaching staff and some leaders have had insufficient opportunity to embed as deep a knowledge or understanding as is required by these heightened levels of accountability. The longer I taught my subject, the better I felt I understood the nuances of what was needed to be good at it. The stages of development were clearer in my mind and the process of learning became embedded in my behaviours. In recent years, as a response to huge levels of change, many quick fixes – including a reliance on subjects like ECDL and a fevered level of intervention activity – have been employed within the curriculum to fill the gaping hole between outcomes and the new heightened expectations. Some of these quick fixes were entirely necessary, in the short term, for students on their once in a lifetime education journey, but in the long term they have produced an intervention focused mind-set, engendering a shallow understanding of curriculum impact. Thankfully, the days when quick-fixes and using the latest fad to sustain improvement are on their way out. ‘Easy’ option ‘loop-holes’ are no more. The only way to achieve the required standards is to teach a truly deep and considered curriculum.

Another common situation is that school and curriculum leaders talk of practice and developments in their own subject with great confidence and expertise. However when, as so often happens, they are required to sit on line management meetings for or make decisions regarding another discipline, many I speak with say they flounder, expressing little understanding and needing to rely on people with unproven trust or depth of knowledge. Does this sound familiar? We need to provide the space in which the accountability is intelligent, considered and deeply understood by all, or at least by those making the decisions without dis-empowering middle leadership to bring their expertise to the table.

A further all too familiar situation is the subject leader who insists the examination board needs to change from ‘X’ instead of ‘Y’. Personnel change and unknown to them, you approved completely the opposite change last year. The cost? £20,000 in new texts from your depleted development budget, with no alternative as the old texts have been thrown in the skip! So, where will you be next year if this staff member moves on and another middle leader makes a seemingly convincing request? The requirement is for a smarter approach to curriculum leadership. The best decisions are based on good understanding, not transient, personnel-led factors, which result in huge costs in time and resource to change.

Every decision in our education system has a purpose – an educationally driven, highly ethical purpose, if only we understood what that was. You will need to get to what the purpose is and that it is viable, valuable and sustainable. A SMART decision. Then we ask how do we train our curriculum leaders to make these decisions? How can we make them good decision makers and how can we sustain a budget that is both balanced and investment focused?

There are proven, significant methods to solve these concerns. Firstly, by having sufficient funds to consider this sort of investment – to that end I would advocate the curriculum led budget planning methodology inherent to the SMARTcurriculum method, to understand what each element costs. This means there needs to be a clear justification for the elements that cost, not just that we need ‘more teaching time,’ ‘smaller class sizes,’ ‘we need another TLR holder,’ or ‘we need more teaching groups.’ What we need is a better understanding of the cost of each of these elements and better global understanding that a significant investment demands better outcomes.

Secondly, there needs to be real accountability for the constituent parts of the curriculum that are understood by all. One approach I advocate is the Curriculum Board. A panel meeting where the content of curriculum is explored, understood and agreed in a shared and open context by middle and senior leaders. Qualification programmes are not changed until the panel has been presented with a rationale and has agreed such changes. Teaching practices are explained and understood not to circumvent accountability of middle leaders, but to enable them to formulate and present their arguments – ensuring programmes are right for our students and developing a shared understanding of how a synergy of subject leaders can work. Requests to alter a programme of study are measured against the previous collective decision that the existing programme was right for the students in that establishment at that time. Change needs to be an improvement, not a personnel-led choice. Having explored the practice with a number of schools, all report that collective understanding of the curriculum has been transformational.

An additional element might be to require UPS staff to do the research work to present to the Curriculum Board, thereby gaining a real, widely scoped understanding of all available compliant programmes. This practice, incidentally, helps with their whole school responsibility and gives credible assessment criteria for their development. Obviously, with so much programme change experienced over the past 18 months, annual review of this process is encouraged and practised by many partners. Chopping and changing is clearly not good practice, although it is understood when absolutely necessary – as has been the case in recent years when qualifications have changed. The key is in developing a shared understanding and a collective ownership of the decisions made.

Thirdly, a major contributor to the process of qualifications and outcomes comes from a shared understanding of the curriculum. A practice I would advocate is to create a written, shared Curriculum Profile for each subject area. A document that is used by the Curriculum Board to clearly document the learning journey. Before each scheme of work is created, this document outlines the intended learning outcomes, scope and organisational details. I would emphasis this is not the ‘options booklet’ which is a marketing tool when all the programmes have been agreed, in itself it should be a digest of the Curriculum Profile.

Fourthly, every secondary school should explore external subject validation. Examiner contact and scrutiny is well understood these days, but I still come across many examples where the examiners’ processes are not used to inform and improve practice. Examiners and verifiers’ reports are not widely circulated or read, yet many are happy to pay large sums to invite examiners to run training sessions. One example would illustrate this lack of understanding: a school did not understand why coursework marks were significantly changed after three years of stable mark review and submission. When I asked to see the last three verifiers’ reports, they were surprised to find that practice alteration warnings had been given in each of the years – initially two annual reports, couched as advice; the third report upgraded to a required action. Delivery staff were completely unaware of the warnings, because they were unaware of the reports, which were only seen by non-teaching exams officers and not explored by teaching staff. Maintaining good review practice for examiners’ and verifiers’ reports is essential.

Finally, know what is going on in the subject area. I have spoken to many teachers who are union members but not subject association members. Every national curriculum subject has a subject focused association, giving advice and resources, developing a passion for learning in your field. I encourage every curriculum leader to join the associations and we provide a directory of many to ensure that there is always a balanced view: Link to list. Do let us know if you know of others to include. The benefit of this approach is to provide all curriculum leaders with a deep and developed understanding required to make great decisions.

If you are interested in developing some of any of the ideas discussed within your school or Trust, please do contact Nicky on or call 0203 701 2854 and we will arrange for one of our leadership specialists to contact you.

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.

SMARTcurriculum method

The core principle behind the SMARTcurriculum method is to have sufficient detail and reason to make good decisions about the curriculum provision- thus ‘To understand’.

On so many occasions during my working life I have had reason to deal with circumstances where educational professionals, whose sole rationale for decisions made about school design, curriculum change and staff deployment were predicated on a survey of what other people are doing.

In this context, much of the current narrative about funding and structures, leaves many with a real lack of narrative about the true size and cost of curriculum provision. To this end we have developed a methodology that can provide confidence about the size and cost of curriculum provision. In no way is it intended to limit what can be done, it is to give you the language of measurement about a schools provision from nursery to post-16 provision. The goal being to make space in a budget for making rich and valuable contributions to student learning, and also to ease the workload of those delivering it.


It should be understood that the work of the Curriculum Analysis Tool is only a part of the SMARTcurriculum method. The practices to secure delivery underpin the method.