Emerging trends for school business managers

Written by: Nicky Gillhespy | Published:
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A report looking at how the role of the school business manager is evolving has highlighted some emerging trends. Nicky Gillhespy explains

Five years ago the idea that a school business manager (SBM) might be needed in a primary school was hard to imagine. But as the role of local authorities has changed more and more primary schools have appointed SBMs.

I was closely involved as a member of the Advisory Group for new research that has been undertaken by Every for Education and supported by the National Association of School Business Management (NASBM). The resulting report provides a useful update on the SBM role and how it is changing and evolving.

One of the most positive findings from the research is the rise in status of the role within schools. Encouragingly, the research highlights that senior leadership teams (SLTs) are increasingly recognising the value of the SBM role. Two years ago, 46 per cent of respondents believed the role was perceived to be valuable or essential – this compares to 84 per cent today.

One outcome of this is that SBMs are becoming part of the SLT. Four in five of respondents reported that this was the case at their school. In my school, I am part of the SLT and this helps everyone at school to understand the importance of the SBM role. I am also the only non-teaching position in the SLT and this can be useful in bringing a different perspective. I will usually look at things from the perspective of feasibility and cost. For instance, on purchasing resources I will look at how we can gain maximum value for the whole school.

However, while the value of SBMs is better understood in schools the research does highlight three new trends.

Increased pressure

The research makes it clear that the role has become more pressured in the past five years. Ninety five per cent of respondents report they have taken on more responsibility. Over three quarters also report that the role has become more complicated and they need to deal with more paperwork, contracts and incidents.

My experience is that the SBM role constantly changes and develops. For instance, the introduction of free school meals in primary meant that I took on responsibility for lunches – agreeing the menu, supervising the serving of meals and attending regular meetings with the cook and area manager. The role is also more pressured because primary schools have so many more responsibilities with the demise of comprehensive local authority support. This means we need to check up on the latest funding requirements or understand new health and safety legislation ourselves.

More public-facing

The SBM role is becoming more visible. The role is increasingly “front-facing” in the sense of communicating with students, parents, schools and other stakeholders. For instance, I do a road crossing for 20 minutes every morning and speak to parents and children as they arrive, deal with any issues they may have or redirect them to who can help.

However, the research showed that most SBMs felt that there was little understanding of the role outside school. Only 50 per cent of respondents believe that the SBM role is perceived to be valuable or essential outside the school environment. Certainly this suggests that there is an opportunity to do more to help parents and other stakeholders to understand the role.

School budgets

More than 90 per cent of SBMs felt their greatest concern for the future was managing the school budget. Balancing the budget is usually seen as the responsibility of the SBM and therefore there is a great deal of pressure on their shoulders to ensure this can happen. Income generation is now a key part of this and SBMs play an important role. They regularly manage additional activities such as the hiring of school premises, bidding for grants and generating sponsorship.

Making the money stretch further in primary is going to be a challenge for all SBMs and my advice is to really look for value for money in all areas. Don’t assume that the local authority or other existing contracts are still the best for your school. Last year we saved thousands on energy costs by leaving the local authority contract.

SBMs already save schools more money than they cost and I think this will continue to improve. SBMs will need to become more creative in how income can be generated and I am not surprised that the research also mentions that the NASBM’s most popular training is income generation.

Increasing professionalism

One of the most positive areas highlighted in the research is around the growing professionalism of the role. Fourteen years ago, the then National College launched a suite of programmes for SBMs. Since then work has continued to help define a competency framework and professional standards and develop qualifications.

However, the role has evolved considerably. The NASBM is now developing a new competency framework, which will be launched shortly. This will include new professional standards to cover all aspects of the SBM role and changes to the main responsibilities of the role reflecting the requirements that academisation has brought.

Strange purchases

Aside from the main research study, Every for Education also asked SBMs about the oddest things they had purchased for their school. The list from those in primary gives a real sense of the diversity of the SBM role and how creative and inspired schools are in the way they think about teaching and learning.

They include the inside parts of an aeroplane cabin, food and clothing for a family who were made homeless, children’s underwear, caterpillars, an Indian takeaway meal for year 6, a lightbulb for the tortoise vivarium, a popcorn machine, and a double decker bus minus the engine. The range of this list doesn’t surprise me because teachers are such creative thinkers and want to engage children as much as possible in their education.

However, with tightening budgets, SBMs will need to become smarter purchasers. We will need to take a more long-term view and make sure that every teacher in the school can use new purchases and gain value for their class. We work closely with other local schools to share equipment and I think that schools will need to get more organised in the next few years as budgets get tighter.

  • Nicky Gillhespy is school business manager at Cheam Fields Primary School in Surrey and SBM representative for the National Association of Head Teachers’ National Executive.

Further information

To download the research, visit www.weareevery.com/resource/research-report-the-age-of-the-business-manager/

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