Integrated curriculum financial planning

Written by: Julia Harnden | Published:
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This really is nothing fundamentally new and I would contend that any good, well run school ...

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Integrated curriculum financial planning, which brings together curriculum and budget, is all the rage, but it is not a new concept. Julia Harnden explains more and asks what it can do for us...

Perhaps the first thing to say about integrated curriculum financial planning (ICFP) is that it isn’t a new idea. The second thing to say is that all schools are likely to be using it (to a greater or lesser extent) in some form already.

So that leads nicely on to a question. Why is there so much talk about ICFP now?

ICFP brings together curriculum and budget planning as a closely linked process and uses a common language to develop understanding across the leadership team and the trust board or governing body.

This is certainly not a new idea. We have been advocating the value of strengthening the link between curriculum and financial planning for many years. As an approach, curriculum-led planning is proactive good practice and not a reaction to a difficult financial situation.

In recent times, the Department for Education (DfE) has begun to strengthen its emphasis on the links between ICFP, effective resource management and efficient financial management. This is a positive step which we support in principle.

However, it is not, of course, a tool which solves the funding crisis. ICFP will help you to use your resources as effectively as possible but it cannot perform miracles with an inadequate level of funding. What it will do is provide you with a fairly simple set of metrics that will allow informed and collaborative decision-making, involving school leaders, governors and trustees.

The following is a list of commonly accepted key characteristics of an ICFP approach:

  • Establishing a strategic plan looking several years ahead.
  • Shared responsibility for pupil number forecasts.
  • Identifying a curriculum to meet pupils’ needs based on pupil data.
  • Refining this through whole-team discussion.
  • Benchmarking these against schools in similar circumstances.
  • Discussing until there is a good curriculum that is affordable.
  • Regular monitoring.

How closely do these characteristics reflect what already happens in your school? How could you move closer to a planning process that reflects these characteristics?

How does it work?

Practically speaking, ICFP is based on the relationship between a group of key metrics. These might include the cost of employing a teacher, the amount of time teachers spend teaching, how much of the budget is available to spend on teachers, the average size of a teaching group and the pupil-teacher ratio. The size of the leadership team as a proportion of the overall teaching staff and the pupil-to-adult ratio should also be understood.

Consideration of the interaction between these metrics and exploring where there might be flexibility will directly inform the number of teachers the school can afford to employ (the full-time teaching equivalent or FTE) and therefore the number of teaching sessions that the school has available to deliver the curriculum. In reality, there will need to be constructive discussion between curriculum and finance leads who will need to work collaboratively to answer questions such as:

  • What must be included in the curriculum?
  • What do we want the school’s curriculum to look like?
  • How many teachers would we need to deliver the curriculum that we need and want over the next three to five years?
  • How many teachers can the school afford now and over the next three to five years?
  • What curriculum can we afford?

It is right that the number one success criteria of an effective ICFP approach will be to target as much money as possible into the classroom and deliver a sustainable curriculum. The questions above will test that. However, there are a few subsequent but no less relevant criteria that must also be included.

How well does the plan afford safe and well-maintained buildings, sufficient and necessary support staff, and sufficient and necessary resources?

All of the questions, metrics and considerations already mentioned are relevant to all phases of education. The relationship between the metrics and the range of values that a school or trust might choose to work within will be different in a primary and secondary setting. They will also be different in schools with high or low levels of deprivation.

So, ICFP is a really valuable tool in workforce planning. In fact, the DfE guidance document Staffing and employment: Advice for schools (October 2018) includes a direct reference in paragraph 2.1: “Governors and school leaders should consider all new staff appointments in the context of curriculum-led financial planning over three to five years. This will include regular reviews of staff deployment.”

Done well, ICFP should deliver a curriculum that meets the needs of all groups of pupils, takes account of local context, and provides a sustainable foundation for growth.

A word of warning

While this approach might appear to be largely data-driven there are some very important contextual factors that must not be ignored. These can be summarised as a set of risk factors which all strategic planning scenarios must observe and assess. These would include:

  • The danger of relying on reserves.
  • The impact of workforce proposals on staff workload.
  • Realism around pupil number projections.

Avoiding looking into the future is like stepping into the dark, and while uncertainty hampers future planning it also makes it more necessary.

So where do you start?

Here are a few questions that you might want to include in an initial discussion about the value of incorporating ICFP into the strategic planning process:

  • What is our school‘s affordable pupil-to-teacher ratio?
  • Is our leadership structure top heavy/sustainable?
  • Is there any scope for economies in timetable delivery?
  • Is there any duplication of effort?
  • What are the projected pupil numbers for the next three to five years?
  • Is there a robust procurement strategy for all expenditure?
  • Do we have a fully costed short/medium, medium/long-term maintenance plan?
  • What does benchmarking tell us?

Talk the talk

There are a number of tools available to help you with curriculum-led planning and these are great for speed and presentation, but it is important that leadership teams, trust boards and governing bodies understand the language of ICFP and its role in resource management. It is clear that this is expected by the DfE and ministers.

A good example is the DfE’s August 2018 document Supporting excellent school resource management, which includes reference to the concept of ICFP as an approach to organisational planning.

The objective of effective strategic planning is to unlock a whole raft of scenario options that will require input from those with responsibility for curriculum planning and those responsible for financial planning. Get these teams working together and you are in the ICFP zone!

  • Julia Harnden is funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders.

Further information

  • Staffing and employment: Advice for schools, DfE (last updated October 2018):
  • Supporting excellent school resource management, DfE, August 2018:
  • “Linking revenue to the timetable” is an online resource by ASCL Professional Development that provides business leaders, governors, trustees, and the senior leadership team with a training package outlining the link between revenue and the school timetable and providing support with the development of your strategic plan. For details, see

This really is nothing fundamentally new and I would contend that any good, well run school following SFVS should be matching curriculum needs to available budget and identifying future challenges and pinch points. Once again the DfE sometimes sounds patronising to highly professional school staff across all disciplines. I accept there are some maintained schools in need of guidance but many are well aware of how recent funding shortages (austerity!) has merely increased pressure on delivering the curriculum.
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