In the 20 years I have worked in the education sector as a teacher, head and now academy trust chief executive, I have advocated a range of approaches to raising standards and enhancing student attainment. Against a backdrop of ever tighter funding, it is increasingly clear that this also needs to be achieved while ensuring that we are making best use of public money.
To achieve this at the Thinking School Academy Trust we take a twin track approach to delivering our mission of “Transforming Life Chances”. Our curriculum-led financial planning model delivers a flexible but effective tool to ensure Headteachers have the right staff in the right place at the right time. In parallel with this effective financial planning, our pursuit of a cognitive approach to education gives staff and students a common language of learning, and a set of teaching and learning tools, which lead to accelerated learning and enhanced outcomes for students.
That’s why I am so proud of the work the Thinking School Academy Trust is doing in financial management. This includes our curriculum-led financial planning model – combining inventiveness with efficacy – and our new pay model. I believe we have struck upon a way to achieve effective cost savings as well as improving outcomes for the children and young people in our schools.
We developed it three years ago, and our curriculum-based financial planning model is based on solid principles yet is flexible enough to be reflected across different schools in different circumstances. In the model, school leaders are able to evaluate their curriculum via accurate staffing forecasts for the next academic year. Through the creation of curriculum maps and staffing structures, it is possible to see whether the current staffing levels are adequate to deliver effective and inspiring teaching to the agreed teacher to pupil ratio.
By allowing leaders to see whether staffing levels are efficient, or under- or over-resourced, school budgets can be used in the most effective possible way. This financial model has been a key part of our ability to provide transformations to schools brought into the Trust, with several of our schools having been drastically improved since their re-brokerage. With staffing structures that meet the needs of the curriculum, money is saved, teaching staff are retained through ensuring that workloads are manageable, and students are able to access an excellent standard of education.
However, an effective and balanced budget achieved through good financial planning is only one side of the coin for delivering outstanding education provision. Our Trust’s pursuit of a cognitive approach to education, as endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation, can be seen in our schools gaining accreditation by Exeter University as Thinking Schools. In practice, this means that students and teachers have a common set of teaching and learning tools that are used consistently in the classroom and students develop as reflective learners.
An example of how we have successfully combined rigorous financial planning and educational transformation is our leadership of the Victory Academy in Chatham. The school was re-brokered due to very poor academic standards and had been issued a financial notice to improve. By applying our curriculum-led financial planning model, we have reduced costs by more than £2 million over the last three years, and through the embedding of cognitive approach to education we have been able to transform academic standards, with the school now rated ‘Good’.
Teacher recruitment and retention are also critical issues and must be dealt with sensitively and with the use of real incentives to guarantee that the best teachers stay in the classroom. This is why we have introduced a new teacher pay model from September 2018, backed by the National Education Union. This includes a minimum starting salary of at least £25,000 (more than £2,000 above the national average), promotion up the pay scale based solely on performance and the introduction of a three percent non-consolidated pay award for teachers at the top of the pay scale who surpass performance objectives.
Motivated teaching staff are the key to ensuring that the education that our students receive is of an excellent quality. Through the deployment of our curriculum-based financial planning model, cognitive approach to education and new pay framework at Thinking Schools we are able to attract the best teaching staff whilst maintaining our reputation for running extremely cost-effective operations.
This blog was written by Stuart Gardner, CEO of Thinking Schools Academy Trust. Join Stuart at 10am in the Recruitment & Workforce Theatre to hear How the Thinking Schools Academy Trust Retains the Talent