Blog: Days in the Life of ICFP, Part Two

Days in the Life of Integrated Curriculum and Financial Planning (ICFP)
In this new series of blogs, ASCL consultant Sam Ellis will outline aspects of ICFP and provide spreadsheets that can be developed by users to suit their own situation. This is his second blog in the series.

Part One: Reality dawns, can be read here

Part Two: I need to use the contact ratio
I had obtained four pieces of information from the bursar:

1)    The number of FTE teachers in the current academic year
2)    The total cost of salary and on costs for those teachers.
3)    The estimate for the revenue available for the next academic year.
4)    The estimate of essential spend on everything except teachers for the next academic year.

I wanted to estimate of the number of teachers we could have for the next academic year and plan a timetable and any staff appointments as a result.

I thought it would be simple: work out what you could spend on teachers from the last two numbers, work out the average teacher cost from the first two numbers, inflate it for the next year then use those numbers to work out how many teachers you could afford.

Unfortunately, I forgot that the governors, like the bursar, only worked in financial years. The idea that working in academic years made for better planning was a big ask! The other issue was the mindset: “We don’t think about appointments till someone resigns”. There is a spreadsheet with this blog to give a sense of the hoops I had to jump through to get everyone into academic year-thinking. Eventually I managed it - I had a number for the FTE teachers and the go-ahead to use that a few months earlier than had ever happened before!

Where did the contact ratio come in?
When looking at my own school, I used average teaching load instead of contact ratio. This is the number of teacher periods a teacher provides taken as an average across all the teachers. Like any average you need to be careful. The average number of goals scored in World Cup football over the last 50 years is something like 2.83 goals per game. Even with a Video Assistant Referee, I doubt any team will score 0.83 of a goal! 

The timetable at the time had a 40-period cycle. There were 50 teachers on it and between them they provided 1,520 teacher periods (tp). The average load was about 30.4 tp. In a 40-period cycle with 51 teachers, the tp budget for the timetable would be 30.4 multiplied by 51; a timetable budget of 1,550 tp. 

There was one problem. We had just completed a curriculum review and the result was a decision to move to a 50-period, two-week timetable cycle. This gave more flexibility for drama, music and careers in Key Stage 3. The average teaching load did not transfer from a 40-period to a 50-period cycle. I needed to look at the contact ratio.

The contact ratio is the average teaching load as a proportion of the timetable cycle. In the 40-period cycle that was 0.76 (30.4 divided by 40 = 0.76). Using the same value in a 50-period cycle gives an average teaching load of 38. My teacher period budget for 51 staff in the new cycle was therefore 1,938tp (51 times 38 = 1,938). I needed to scale individual teaching loads in a similar way and make adjustments to answers that were not whole numbers, so the total for the actual staff including the expected appointments was 1,938tp.

What can the contact ratio show you?
The contact ratio is a number that can be used to compare the teaching load in different timetables. You can use it to compare different years in your own school and to compare yourself with other schools.
Contact ratio is also a key financial driver. This is explained in the article The Equation of Life (first published on the ASCL website in June 2014). A 4% shift in contact ratio can have something like a 2% shift in the budget’s in-year balance. Contact ratio is a key player in the ICFP game. 

In 2008 when I ran the ASCL Timetable course, I was asked what the contact ratio should be. My initial answer was ‘whatever the school wants and can afford.’ That did not satisfy the questioner so I gave in by saying that as a timetabler I would aim for 0.78 as an aspirational target. 10% PPA time, 10% management time for no other reason than it is the same as the PPA level plus 2% error to give a contact ratio of 0.78. This was soon taken out of context, the italicized words were lost and 0.78 became known as ‘The ASCL level’. It was quoted by the DfE and still lurks about on the web as if it is some sort of universal truth. The idea that there is a single contact ratio value that is a silver bullet for all schools is pure snake oil!

Let me be clear, if I were still running a school and could afford a contact ratio below 0.78 I would do it to give more time to planning and management, and ease workload. Equally, as a timetabler, I would aim for 0.78 if that was sensible in the context of the school and the workload of staff to give me the maximum number of tp for scheduling flexibility. I could still reduce some teaching loads where possible once I had achieved an optimum timetable fit. There is a balance to be struck. I think that is up to an individual school to decide what is in the best interests of pupils and work life balance, and not a matter of matching some metric passed down from the top floor of Mount Westminster.

In my next blog, I will be looking at more numbers I could use to compare my school timetable with others, and why I put BASIC and BONUS on the ‘File and Forget’ pile!

Sam will be leading our series of one-day workshops Implementing Integrated Curriculum and Financial Planning (ICFP) in your school or MAT: A practical workshop on 26 September (Birmingham) , and 18 October (London)
Posted: 25/09/2019 09:32:50