Integrated curriculum and financial planning (ICFP) is a term which has become increasingly prominent in the world of education since April this year.
That’s because on 12 April the vast majority of Multi-Academy Trust Development Improvement Fund (MDIF) grants were issued to those trusts which applied for them back in November 2017. These grants range from £50,000 to £150,000, and are specifically to be used to develop school improvement capacity through larger multi-academy trusts (MATs). The increasing financial pressures faced by publically funded education providers are prompting more and more bids for restricted grants, which have to be spent on very specific purposes and then retrospectively scrutinised independently to demonstrate to Parliament the best use of public money. All of which sounds very sensible.
The 2018 round of MDIF grants came with a new stipulation, which stated: “This offer is conditional on the introduction of integrated curriculum and financial planning (ICFP) across all schools within the Trust.” Reading further, it became clear that releasing the funding was actually conditional on arranging “an independent evaluation of the Trust’s financial efficiency… and advice on how the Trust can embed ICFP into its processes.”
I chair a growing MAT in my spare time, and we were lucky enough to be offered an MDIF grant. My immediate thought was what exactly is ICFP? I had already read Lord Agnew’s letter to academy trust auditors and had seen the reference to how “A wider awareness of this fundamental tool in teacher deployment is helping many schools.”
Asking my local Regional Schools Commissioner’s Office for more information drew little response, and an internet search proved equally fruitless. However, a 15-minute video from Sir Michael Wilkins, Chief Executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, did help to improve my understanding. At Outwood, the commoditisation of a lesson/period allowed the Trust put a financial price on the most precious resource any school has – time. As professionals, we do that a lot. We sell time and those who buy it, value it. We know the value of our time because there is a competitive market for it. The same could be said for a secondary school. Every day is broken down into periods, every teacher has a fixed annual cost, and every teacher needs to teach a certain number of lessons to keep the school running. The missing piece of the puzzle is how much non-teaching time is allowed for personal development, CPD, mentoring, pastoral care and administration?
How does that translate into a primary setting though? In this environment there are no periods, there are constant contact time requirements for the younger cohort, and very little scope for sweating the asset harder, or for obtaining better value for the use of public money. I have since carried out a number of ICFP reviews for primary-only trusts. The reviews have, by necessity, been collaborative. It feels like we are making it up as we go along, but the feedback received is that the process has been valuable to executive leaders and trustees. Some of the most pertinent findings so far are as follows:
Trust and school improvement plans
Linking improvement plans with budgets and longer term forecasts at both the trust and school level is so important. It focuses the executive team on what is important, and validates the dedication of resources to the operational areas which present the greatest risk of not improving outcomes for pupils. Every improvement initiative should have a cost. That cost may be time based and difficult to quantify, but it is still a cost.
This may sound glamorous and corporate, but ultimately it is a reference point for trustees to assess school and trust performance based on a number of key performance indicators (KPIs). These don’t have to be rigid, and the dashboard should live, breath and grow with the trust itself as it rides the waves of school improvement. The information presented in any data dashboard should be there to help trustees ask the questions that will challenge and support the executive leaders they are responsible for. The setting of parameters for KPIs is also useful. This will help trustees understand what is acceptable, what isn’t, and what requires further explanation or investigation.
Performance management and oversight
It’s naive to think that a MAT CEO can have as meaningful an impact on individual school performance as the head of each school. What is important however, is that the CEO knows what those heads need to do to improve outcomes in their schools, and holds regular meetings in which monitoring those priorities is top of the agenda. This focus will inevitably lead to better use of public resources.
While most of this will be unique in each trust, underpinning ICFP is a strong financial strategy linked with school improvement and the delivery of curriculum that will give academy trusts the freedom to build a sustainable educational provision. That provision not only focuses on key priorities, but also encourages breadth and balance, so that rather than being shackled by fears of exam performance and grade chasing in a narrow field of STEM subjects, our children become broad-minded citizens of the world of tomorrow.
The Department for Education has provided some guidance on ICFP through publications such as School resource management: checklist and the Top 10 planning checks for governors. These resources don’t give any hint as to what ICFP might look like in your trust, but they are useful tools to help compare, contrast and maybe start collaborative conversations with other local providers who are doing things differently to you.
The ICFP evaluation reports I have produced for our clients have provided them with extremely valuable information on areas they need to address in order to make better use of their resources. If you are looking for a provider who can add real value to the process while offering genuine first-hand experience, then do please get in touch. We are always happy to have a discussion based on your needs.
Senior Manager – Academies Team