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Blog: Days in the Life of ICFP, Part One

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.

Part One: Reality Dawns
ICFP began for me in 1993,
between Windows 3.1 and Nirvana’s third CD


(With acknowledgement to Philip Larkin’s “Annus Mirabilis”)

By 1993, I had been playing around with aspects of what is now called ICFP for a few years. I did it mostly out of interest and certainly not with any sense that I might be the person responsible for the school’s performance and finances; after all, I was only the curriculum deputy.

Linking teacher time on the timetable to costs seemed like a good idea since 1988 when schools started employing their own teachers. I did not have access to a computer with Excel or Word at the time so my first attempts were handwritten versions of this table.



This example is available here as a free download in Excel.  

The line for non-contact time was to get round the idea of teacher contact ratio. The colleagues I shared this information with did not “do numbers”. This type of information, tabled in senior team meetings, usually went down like a lead balloon in any case and adding contact ratio would have been a step too far; most agendas at the time were cluttered with more pressing topics such as whether a non-uniform day would undermine the behavior policy!

In 1993 I was three years into my deputy headship and my second head teacher had just gone off on a long term absence never to return. Hopefully, I was not the reason! Suddenly, I was seriously interested in ICFP as my name was now at the head of the budget return in my new unwanted role as Acting Head.

The watershed came when I asked the bursar two questions:
  • Approximately how many teachers will we be able to afford to appoint for next September?
  • Is there a simple way I could use with Governors to show how we work that out?
The bursar was a great person who had the ability to confuse and obfuscate at Olympic level. After three hours of debate and several mugs of weapons grade school tea I was none the wiser. I did learn in detail about the laundry cost of dish cloths in Home Economics and the potential saving on the boiler costs by shutting down the heating over Christmas. I am certain that scenario would not arise with a current SBM but this was in the early days of managing our own money. To be fair, the bursar had been dropped in the deep end and converted from a typist to a bursar with minimal training at County Hall and then told to get on with it! She was doing a brilliant job against all the odds and with no visible support. It was no better for me. I was suddenly carrying the can and flag for a several million pound budget with zero support and no instruction manual! No wonder we struggled!

ICFP on a beer mat

That night, I had a jazz guitar gig at Chaplin’s in Hull. Kenny, the owner of the Tex-Mex restaurant in question, paid me £25 and free beer to play there every Wednesday. Between spots I sat with a bottle of Corona and a wedge of lime considering school finances. I doodled around with what are now ICFP elements on a beer mat. The result was an equation for which I needed four bits of information. I naively thought I could get those from the bursar the following day without any ifs or buts. I still had a lot to learn!

I needed to know:
  1. the number of FTE teachers at a point in time in the current academic year
  2. the total cost of salary and on costs for those teachers at the same point in time
  3. the best estimate for the revenue available for the next academic year ignoring any carry forward or potential deficit
  4. the best estimate of the essential spend on everything except teachers for the next academic year
From the first two numbers I could calculate an average teacher cost. I could then estimate a value for future years by accounting for pay awards and other changes. The third and fourth numbers would give me the revenue available to spend on teachers. Dividing that by the average teacher cost estimate would give an estimate for the number of teachers I could afford in a balanced budget.

The final step would be to check on the state of any expected carry forward or deficit and take a view as to whether or not to adjust the FTE total, or whether that gave me a margin for potential flexibility in my estimate.

Needless to say, discussions were not that simple and extracting answers was probably harder than haggling over the price of a carpet in a souk in Marrakesh. Nevertheless, the bursar and I eventually got to some sort of agreement and remained friends. My father’s answer to all difficulty: “When in doubt, brew up,” was a considerable help.

In my next blog, I will describe how the four answers led to the simplest type of ICFP calculation and hence of the mysteries of contact ratio, or as I called it in 1993, ‘applied common sense’!

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: 04/09/2019 12:42:58