Steve Hewitt is an FE Associates MIS and Funding Consultant

The eye of a hurricane is famously calm - an eerie normality before inevitable chaos. And so it is, currently, with funding for curriculum planning.

But there are still things you should do.

For years now we’ve been battered by cuts coming at us from all directions. But as we move to planning for 2017/18 it’s all looking a little more tranquil.

We know the Education Funding Agency funding rate for learners will stay at its current rate. We can see the 5 per cent tolerance for the Maths and English Condition of Funding will remain when calculating our lagged funding.

Providing we hit our targets in the current year there’s no planned reduction to Skills Funding Agency classroom-based funding - and we’ve just had it confirmed that the formula funded matrix isn’t changing.

This calm is welcome but not surprising, given the funders’ focus on developing a new apprenticeship funding model. And it’s a nice time to breathe it all in, because industry-wide change is coming in 2019/20 with the planned introduction of the 15 Core Vocational Routes.

Use this brief period of certainty as an opportunity to focus on improving our target setting and ensuring the provision we offer in the classroom is the most appropriate.

So while the sun is shining, let me share with you four ways you can tighten the ropes and mend your roof:

1. Local factors and the 16-18 demographics

We know we’re not quite at the bottom of the dip in the birth rate which has led to fewer 16-year-olds.

Nationally, numbers don’t start increasing until 2018/19, although there are local variations which you can investigate with this interesting tool.

It’s also worth discussing with your Local Authority how many Year 11s they think are in the system. If you collect data on which school your 16-year-olds come from you can build up intelligence on what an average year would look like - and pick out which schools it might be worth you working more closely with.

If your main feeder schools have any significant drops in Year 11 numbers, this could have a major impact on you if you aren’t ready for it.

2. Qualifications

We know The Sainsbury Review will have a major impact with the new 15 lines of learning, but clearly there’s a way to go until we know what they’ll look like. The learners who start this September will be long gone before any of these recommendations become reality. So maybe this is the time to concentrate on what you do well rather than branching out into new and unknown areas, given they may have to be completely re-thought in three years’ time?

3. Maths and English

The Condition of Funding doesn’t seem to be going away or changing any time soon and we know it’s (rightly) a major concern for Ofsted, despite rising concerns about its implementation. My colleague Edd Brown offered some great strategies for improving what’s happening in your organisation, if you don’t think you’ve got it right yet.

4. Target Setting

Too often target setting can become a game to make numbers on a spreadsheet add up to the answer you’ve already asked it to reach. Realistic, evidence-based target setting requires discipline as it doesn’t allow for optimism.

When you know the Certificate in Underwater Basket Weaving has only attracted 14 learners in each of the last three years there’s really no justification in setting a target of 20 - even if you’ve recently updated to the latest snorkel technology.

Senior managers need to be tough, and trend data is the key to help you challenge to the more unrealistic plans.

Storm analogies aside, there’s never been a year - in the fifteen I’ve been planning courses - that I’ve not been left feeling at least slightly overwhelmed. There’s always too much to do, and too little time. But it’s probably the most important thing to spend time on. Hopefully I’ve given you some thoughts to feed into your planning process - good luck!

Steve Hewitt is an FE Associates MIS and Funding Consultant and is available to support colleges and providers in interim leadership roles and with consultancy projects.

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