19th March 2019
While recently mooching around the Edu corridors of Twitter, I came across a thread discussing the costs associated with purchasing a primary curriculum. I would typically steer away from such conversations because views on costs can be very subjective. What one school thinks is worth the investment, another can deem too expensive. Of course, this depends on the situation a school is in, and what other budgetary battles they are facing. But it did get me thinking about the real cost of curriculum design.
With the new Ofsted inspection framework now firmly on the horizon (it’s still open for consultation, but I doubt there will be many changes afoot with this) and the definite shift towards a ‘quality of education’ judgement, many schools will be poised to take a long, hard look at their curriculum. In many cases, the requirement to evidence a broad and balanced curriculum will mean some period of readjustment or investment, particularly in science and the foundation subjects. Also, the need to articulate and evidence a cohesive and progressive curriculum model may be a sizeable task for some schools. So if you want or need to undertake such work, how might you do it and what is the real cost of curriculum design?
Headteacher from a primary LA maintained school,
Use and perceptions of curriculum support resources in schools,
Department for Education and Skills
There are two ways to undertake this work. The first is to DIY. Doing it yourself means allocating key staff to do the work and providing sufficient time for them to do it. Some schools will decide to invest in consultancy support for the above process. The second is to buy a curriculum package, such as Cornerstones, which offers a blueprint from which to develop a more bespoke curriculum.
The pressure of school budgets means that choosing the right resources to invest in is a challenge. And, developing curriculum does cost. Make no mistake about that. Whether you decide to do it yourself or purchase a curriculum package, you cannot escape the fact that developing a quality curriculum and resourcing it, costs money. So, which approach presents you with the lesser challenge and what are the pros and cons of both options?
Depending on how much work your curriculum needs to meet your aspirations, will determine how much time you will need and its overall cost. Some schools deciding to take the DIY approach, offer key staff non-contact time to undertake the work. Current issues around workload can be a challenge here, as anyone who has spent considerable time out of their classroom taking on extra development work will attest. Even non-teaching staff will find they need to draw upon other’s expertise, resulting in additional workload and costs. If releasing staff is what you choose to do then this will naturally come with a significant price tag, either for supply or internal cover. In my experience, a minimum of 10 days non-contact time should be expected to undertake the initial audit and to complete subject and concept mapping exercises. If we look at an average of 10 days of supply per school, then this stage of curriculum development alone can cost upwards of £3,000. This does not, however, include the actual research and writing of curriculum content or creating resources.
Hidden costs, such as unpaid work outside of school hours, are often also unaccounted for when considering the true price of doing it yourself. You incur further costs if you choose to seek additional support from curriculum consultants. Their costs vary depending on expertise, but most are at least £200 per day. Of course, this does not take into consideration the costs of resourcing the planned curriculum or the ongoing adaptations and updates that are needed from time to time in response to national or government initiatives.
Purchasing a curriculum package is often perceived as being the more expensive option. Whilst it’s true that purchasing a curriculum package will inevitably incur an upfront cost, many schools continue to choose this option. Curriculum package costs can and do vary enormously, with some costing in the hundreds and some costing way over £10,000. Cornerstones’ prices sit squarely in the middle of this spectrum, with an average-sized school costing under £4,000 – approximately the same cost as the DIY model.
Those schools who do choose to purchase a curriculum model do so citing saving time, lack of subject expertise and resourcing, as some of the main reasons for investing. Here at Cornerstones, it has taken a team of subject experts well over three years to develop a comprehensive curriculum and supporting resources. And we’re always adding to it! Many schools also find ongoing support and the reassurance of curriculum materials being constantly brought up to date with national and governmental changes incredibly valuable. If you’re lucky enough to find a curriculum that also can provide you with the teaching resources to help you deliver it, then this is of massive benefit both financially and logistically.
In his recent speech, Professor Michael Young from the Institute for Education spoke about the need for schools to have a ‘resource-rich’ curriculum. His comments relate to the current DfE drive for a knowledge-rich curriculum, but his remarks could certainly apply across the board to any curriculum model. We know that even with the most excellent planning in place, a curriculum can fail to deliver when teachers do not have good quality resources to support it.
However, the cost of resourcing a rich curriculum can often be higher than writing it. Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of companies offering teaching resources. These are of variable quality – some being excellent and some entirely questionable. Once you’ve designed your curriculum, you will need to source the best resources to deliver it – or, again, make these in house. With a package such as Cornerstones, resources are specifically designed to deliver lesson content and are updated when necessary. Other benefits include the fact that resources are researched and written by subject specialists and have already been checked and edited. Using published resources also prevents individual teachers from being put at risk of copyright breach. A recent example saw a school using photographs from a copyrighted source, sending them home to parents and publishing them online. Whichever option you take with this, both will require investment.
So where does that leave us? In this blog, I’ve mentioned some comparative costs between DIY and published curriculum designs, but the true cost can never be tied down. This is due to the number of variables at play, such as the size of your school, the amount of work to be done or the cost of the curriculum package. Whichever option you choose, it’s definitely worth thinking hard about what will be the real cost of your curriculum design in the long term.