I am sometimes asked for benchmarking data on the teacher contact ratio or teaching load. The simple answer is that there isn’t any, and even if there was, you wouldn’t want to trust that everyone had used the same definitions.   

So, what can you do if you are unsure about whether your arrangements are as efficient as they can be?  How can you tell if you have set aside “too much” time for management responsibilities?  

Whether you are new in post and want to take a fresh look, or the SRM Dashboard has popped up with a red rating for contact ratio or the budget just won’t balance, and every aspect needs to be challenged, a thorough review of teaching (and support staff) deployment is worth doing every so often.

Because the right answer to the contact ratio conundrum is that it depends….

…it depends on levels of need.  

Using a simplistic measure of contact ratio (the relationship between class size data from the January census and PTR from the Workforce census) we can see that contact ratio reduces as the level of deprivation increases.  

That makes sense.

Whether this is a result of having more money and being able to give teachers more time to plan or the need to set aside more staff time for multi-agency meetings or intervention, or a mixture of both, the trend is clear.  The much referenced 0.78 is not as common as DfE material would suggest. 

….it depends on the challenges the school faces.  

There is a clear trade-off average class size and contact ratio for any given number of teachers and pupils.  Smaller group sizes, more teachers required.  Larger groups, more time for planning, assessment, management, intervention, etc, etc.

Not rocket science.  

….it also depends where you are starting from.  

Changing the contact ratio could mean altering management structures and roles, it could be a change to class structures or curriculum offer and it could be a change in the total number of teachers.  It is as likely to be a consequence as a driver.  But all of those changes take time to implement, and so you will be working towards your target contact ratio for a couple of years at least.  

And on the way something is bound to change.

The key thing is that it is the right answer for your school.

The old-fashioned way is the best.  A list of every teacher, including those on maternity leave and definitely including the senior leadership team.  You will need their FTE – how much of the week you pay them for, and to be able to translate that into whatever teaching periods work in your school.  Easy in a secondary school, somehow much more complicated in a primary, where we often resort to hours.

With that data on a spreadsheet, you can then add columns for teaching, PPA, management and any other categories of time that are important to you.  It might be intervention or nurture provision or provision of support to another school.

If you add salary data, you can start to see what different categories of time cost.

Can I just warn you, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Just getting a list of teachers that everyone agrees on is hard enough, let alone nailing what they are actually doing all week.

The next thing you will need is a bit of spreadsheet wizardry to out some key statistics and a few charts and then you just need an enquiring mind.

There are four obvious places to look.

And the big question is “are these arrangements as cost-effective as they could be”?

  • Time for planning and preparation – it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone, if there is a good reason, just so long as everyone has at least 10% of their timetabled teaching time.  Two teachers sharing a class might need some joint PPA time.  A teacher who sees every class in a year group for two periods a fortnight might need more if they are going to provide any meaningful feedback.  You might want to give more to core subjects or particular year groups, or teachers stepping out of their normal subject of age group.  A differentiated approach will be harder, but no-one said leadership was easy.
  • Management and leadership time – a “reasonable amount of time during the school day to discharge responsibilities” to paraphrase the STPCD.  So, the question is, what are those responsibilities, what are we really asking for, how are we expecting them to be discharged and what allocation of time is required.  And the answer may not be a set amount of time each week.  It might be access to some cover in a flexible way to allow for lesson observation or line management meetings.  Or a whole week at a particular time of the school year.
  • Cover – often the time not allocated in the timetable the first time around is then allocated to cover.  That can then become embedded and before you know where you are you have senior leaders doing cover instead of leadership.  And enjoying being in the classroom.  It might be right, it should be purposeful.  And informed.  The staff deployment analysis will show you the cost and you can also reflect on the effectiveness.
  • Gradual drift away from the policy – things change, sometimes you can’t get a good match, sometimes we start with last year’s plan and roll it forward.  And before you know where you are, Mrs Jones who used to be the SENCo but isn’t any more still has Thursday afternoons off, and no-one quite knows why.

So, the question should be is our contact ratio the best it can be?

If you haven’t done it for a while, I promise you that the staff deployment analysis will throw up some interesting nuggets.  If you are in a multi-academy trust you will be able to compare notes with colleagues.  When you have cracked it for the teaching workforce, do the same again for education support staff.  And don’t forget that this is about the effective use of time.

Are you ready to make purposeful and informed decisions about how to deploy your most expensive and important resource?

If you would like to talk this through, or you would like me to dig out my wizard hat and sort out the spreadsheets, do get in touch and I would be happy to help.