Promises of more funding will be welcome, but the sector can’t continue using disadvantaged schools as cover for their own irresponsible spending, writes Paul Tarn.

Lord Agnew has for some time argued for the sector to make better use of resources, and he’s come under a lot of criticism from the sector for it. I believe he is right, and that he should continue to push the sector.

Education is a huge area of spending, and pledges of more to come will be welcomed by all, but with this comes responsibility for all sector leaders to get the very best value for money.

In secondary education, our simple analysis of national census data suggests there is over £1 billion of over-staffing, with an equivalent of over 20,000 teachers not actually teaching at any given time. Whether you use ASCL’s staffing model or integrated curriculum-led financial planning (ICFP), this assumes that each teacher teaches about 19.5 out of 25 timetabled hours and that the average class size is less than 27.

As a profession we shape society and provide and nurture the talent to deliver the future economic prosperity of our country.  This is why we must be as vociferous about getting the full benefit of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash as we are about shouting for more.

A postman earns about £20,000 per annum and pays about £3,000 in tax and national insurance contributions. A secondary school that gives an additional three non-contact periods to a senior teacher is spending £6,000 of its funding on time that is not allocated to the classroom – equivalent of the entire year’s tax contribution of two postmen.

Three non-contact periods cost £6,000, equivalent to two postmen’s yearly tax contribution

So while providing a fairer funding package is a priority, this needs to go hand-in-glove with incentivising teachers to teach. Using ASCL’s model to look at a very large secondary 11-16 academy – the type of school that has been front-and-centre in the campaign for more funding – suggests that with an average class size of less than 27 and a teaching load of 19.5 periods out of 25 periods, the school could operate with 17 fewer teachers.

Not only is the cost significant for the individual school, but it also exacerbates staff recruitment difficulties in neighbouring schools.

When I became CEO of Delta Academies Trust, the projected in-year deficit for the following year was an estimated £8 million across a trust of 47 schools. This was almost entirely due to our 14 secondary academies.  It was a position that, thankfully, we resolved without any compulsory teaching job losses, but it was a difficult period for all.

The key is utilising Integrated Curriculum Financial Planning (ICFP). That means thoroughly assessing the money available to us, calculating the frontline teaching staff we need in each school based on pupil numbers, and ensuring we aren’t over-filling non-contact, non-teaching senior and middle leader positions.

Essentially, it’s about making sure every single pound we receive is going to the right place, towards the right staff and resources needed to drive up standards for every child.

Small rural schools and those in challenging areas have a more difficult time financially and can struggle to provide a broad curriculum. This is a strong argument for a more nuanced funding formula that supports those schools more effectively.

For money to be allocated more fairly requires that larger, more affluent institutions take seriously their fiduciary duty to support the wider system. Managing an efficient teaching workforce allows us to invest in our profession, manage teacher recruitment and support parents and students across the system.

If we are going to campaign, let’s make sure that we campaign for responsible use of public funding. Anything else risks looking like the sector is using the difficulties of rural schools and those in challenging circumstances as cover for their own profligacy.

To misquote a certain minister – if our larger schools can’t identify ways to support a fairer funding system, I’ll buy them a pint of Yorkshire’s best.