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Getting to grips with ICFP

December 21, 2020, 9:41 GMT+1
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  • Chris Jones explains why the Integrated Curriculum and Finance Planning system is relevant to the primary phase
Getting to grips with ICFP

Within the updated Department for Education website you will find a section entitled ‘Integrated Curriculum and Finance Planning,’ (ICFP). The term, designed to describe a collection of metrics used within education management for many years, introduced by the DfE as ‘nothing new,’ is a formalisation of existing knowledge.

The metrics include teacher contact ratio, pupil/teacher ratio, pupil/adult ratio, average class size, average teacher cost, percentage spend on teaching staff, senior staff proportion of all employees, now clearly defined calculations nationally standardised. A range of financial proportions related to total spend, roll predictions and performance measures including Ofsted rating and outcome progress scores have been added.

There has been much discussion of a single metric to describe an ‘efficient school.’ I wonder whether ‘efficiency’ is the correct term here as they are more measures of capacity to deliver state-funded education. By way of example, consider the new ‘freedoms’ to vary teacher salaries within maximum and minimum values rather than using nationally standardised scales. The inevitable impact of this over time has clear consequences on the budget capacity.


Responses to the desire to create a universal measure all use these familiar metrics and have produced the 2013 DfE ‘School Efficiency Measure,’ created to provide an input/output measure, a money-in/pupilprogress- out analysis. Also, the ASCL ‘Equation of Life;’ a calculation based on these metrics resolves to a single measure of school capacity. Both gaining limited traction across the system.

Many have argued, quite rightly, that these metrics have been secondary phase oriented, that they do not readily apply to the primary phase structures and delivery methodology. Certainly, the early sector-led versions of ICFP did not include primary school structures in their narrative. However, the new drive toward ICFP is unapologetically phase agnostic. ICFP produces metrics of capacity to deliver benchmarked provision against the standardised grant income and, given that most of the grant funds are calculated based on pupil numbers, this seems a positive way forward. ICFP methodology enables a broad range of practices to be considered, it does not overtly provide a ‘healthcheck’ or value-based measurement respecting different contexts and delivery strategies, it allows comparison against standardised system practice. Thus, not forcing toward a unified practice but driving toward an understanding of the breadth of what works and what does not.


What we do know about ICFP is that the story that the metrics tell is very different between the phases. The use of the metrics on a more regular basis and widely across the system, is prompting questioning about the capacity to do what we expect of a school and distinguishes the great and the not so great practices. In conversation with primary leaders and SBMs I have found the common retort that ICFP has simply reinforced questions that they have always asked, it has brought more formality and structure to questions that school business managers have asked of education leaders and allowed governors to enter the conversation. This is probably the major strength of ICFP in that it is bridging a gap between the SBM community and the education leadership communities - providing a shared narrative about key issues and challenges that each institution faces. The shared narrative is a powerful and necessary move toward being more efficient with spending, enabling more effective use of resources to provide the best learning systems to educate our young people.

Contact ratio

Just by way of example, let us look at three and explore their application to any phase of education. Contact ratio will, at its core, question a school’s capacity to provide a level of management time to its teachers (time for teachers away from class teaching.) It forces the question ‘How many nonteaching staff can we afford?’ Followed by, ‘Does the headteacher teach?’ and ‘Can I afford a non-teaching deputy or SENCO?’ The contact ratio target of 78 per cent provides a metric to explore what is possible and enables evaluation of where funds are used to achieve local variations in practice. This is different from the past roundtable conversations initiating ‘What do you do in your school?’ ignoring all context specific rationale as to why there may be a variety of practices.

Average class size will always prompt questions of organisational methodology single year group classes or mixed year classes? Is the latter inevitable or desirable, certainly in the village primary school or rural small school it will always be a question of capacity with available funds rather than organisational imperatives or simply historical norms. The metric opens the question of optimum class size, there is now much published research (EEF Teacher Toolkit) and now global understanding illustrated through OECD reporting to inform good conversation. We often hear the expression of desired smaller class sizes, sadly often without specifics. So, what is the class size we are referring to? The benchmarked metric-based system allows for there to be some context to the conversation and a baseline upon which to base our understanding.


You will be aware of the incremental drift created by the teacher salary scales and that it produces an ever-increasing wage bill. The implications of a small, very stable staff body all reaching the Upper Pay Scale 3 position. It is wonderful to have an experienced stable staff body, but the cost is much more than a staff with a higher turn-over and a representation of newly qualified teachers. In this context the percentage spend on staff over time becomes a significant financial challenge to a small primary school even if it appears desirable in stabilising the school.

So, is the ICFP system relevant to the primary phase? Yes, it provides a nationally benchmarked understanding of capacity across all primary schools. It exposes the challenges of funding capacity and increasing costs and is essential to improve the clarity of understanding and communication of the long-term pressures on the system. Significantly it also creates a basis on which a shared conversation between accountable groups can develop strategy and actions with the means to prove the impact of a chosen course of action.

Shared understanding

Integrated Curriculum and Finance Planning is nothing new, according to the DfE, but the formalisation and definition of the metrics is of benefit to primary schools in creating a shared understanding across the stakeholders of school leadership.

Many have used the metrics previously, but they are now brought together in a systematised form. Questioning can be formed about strategy, impact and capacity that will benefit the individual school and the education system as a whole.

Metrics are dangerous when they are poorly defined, the clarity we now have means that we have a baseline to consider innovation and impactful practice clearly, comparably to be understood by all. No longer the domain of secondary education alone, ICFP is phase agnostic and meaningful in the primary phase, enabling dialogue that is meaningful to ensure capacity to deliver the most efficient, effective, and ethical curriculum within the financial means possible.

Chris Jones, CEO CJ Learning and CJ Learning Technologies, is a DfE approved Financial Advisor for schools using the ICFP methodology. In 2018 he released the SMARTcurriculum® App, an online tool enabling leaders to evaluate, analyse and model their curriculum provision.