Extra cash is welcome, but schools need to stop being wasteful

25 Sep 2019, 11:15

cost-cutting consultants

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.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply to Steve Waters Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. And how much of the time spent “not actually teaching” is spent meeting with parents, teachers or pupils, on after school activities, on writing reports and other admin, or on thinking about, devising and implementing lesson plans etc? (As a parent).

    My MA is in International Journalism not teaching.

  2. I cannot remember reading anything so woefully misinformed in the history of Schools Week. And nothing that has angered me more.
    If anyone wonders why educators can sometimes be hostile to the Academies movement, I would suggest it could be because folk like Paul Tarn end up as their CEOs!
    I could write at length on the role of the teacher, the typical teacher working week of 60 hours, or direct Paul Tarn to https://data.oecd.org/eduresource/teaching-hours.htm.
    I could point out the UK contact times are much higher than those in the countries that are most educationally successful. But with someone this ill-informed it would certainly be a waste of time. Clearly he is a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
    I would suggest the best way his schools could make a dramatic cost saving would be to sack their CEO, and use the £200,000 saved per year to actually educate students.

  3. Julian Selman

    The problem with Lord Agnew’s comments was that the examples he used were really unhelpful and many people working in schools felt insulted as a result. this article also makes generalised statements about saving money without any concrete examples of how money is being wasted or misdirected. Of course schools should use their budgets prudently but is you are going to imply that some schools would not use extra funding responsibly, then at least back this up with some evidence.

  4. Mr Tarn

    Your article is breathtaking in its lack of understanding of both the relentless pressure on teachers and the importance, enshrined in teachers’ pay and conditions, for PPA time. Where teachers have additional periods of non-contact time on top of their PPA time, they are either covering for an absent colleague, planning, marking, answering emails, entering data, discussing pupils, meeting with colleagues, calling parents, meeting with parents, going to the toilet or meeting with pupils – either to support them or follow-up on a behaviour incident. Of course, this applies only to secondary schools, as primary teachers are with their class all day, every day.

    Either you are ignorant of what teachers do or this is a wilful attempt to undermine them. Either way, your comments are not worthy of the position you occupy. I dread to think what negativity exists within the Trust as a result of your views. Christina Maslach, world expert in Occupational Burnout, identifies Lack of Reward, Work Overload and Lack of Control as three of six factors which lead to Burnout. I suspect that these factors exist in your schools.

    The Academisation of schools has brought both benefits and disadvantages. One of its key disadvantages is the adding of extra layers of management in the form of CEOs, Executive Headteachers, HR professionals and Business Managers. It can be argued that these layers are necessary to manage complex organisations and I have sympathy with that argument.

    However, these positions have entailed additional costs. CEOs of MATs typically earn between £150,000 -£250.000. Perhaps your own salary is within this range. This sum could instead be spent on extra support for pupils with additional needs or mental health professionals or 6 NQTs.

    Some would say that profligacy is to be found in the salaries of MAT managers and that no-one, especially those who have no direct contact with the classroom, should be earning these kinds of salaries in schools.

    I am open to be persuaded otherwise. However, when you present an argument that schools are wasting funding in the way that you have, you open yourself up to criticism for exactly the same reason – that your salary is a waste of public funds.

    Perhaps you would like to explain why you believe this not to be the case.

    Steve Waters
    Teach Well Alliance

  5. Ben Gibbs

    One assumes that a MAT CEO who doesn’t value the time spent by teachers outside of the classroom doesn’t therefore expect them to work outside of their contact time. I very much look forward to seeing Delta’s staff workload and wellbeing data improve dramatically when staff adjust to his logic.