School business leadership (not management)

Written by: Debbie Beazer | Published:

Debbie Beazer discusses her path to becoming a school business leader and the changing role of this vital position within the school team

To anyone looking in from the outside, my career as a school business professional may look quite straightforward. I started out as an administrator at South Gloucestershire’s Blackhorse Primary School in 2001. As my responsibilities grew, in 2010 I trained as a school business manager through the National College for School Leadership.

Then, in April 2017, I re-evaluated my role against the National Association of School Business Management (the NASBM has since become the Institute of School Business Leadership – ISBL) professional standards and was promoted to school business leader. But of course, that’s just the short version. So how did I really get here?

Becoming part of the school leadership team

When I first became a school business professional, the role was yet to evolve into what it has become today. I’ve been extremely lucky to work with an inspirational headteacher who gave me the confidence to take responsibility for my own professional journey.

Nevertheless, I don’t think the school leadership team fully understood my role at first. If I’m honest, nor did I fully grasp the educational complexities of running a school. Over time, this understanding has developed on both sides, and continues to do so. However, while I always played an important operational function, leadership was never something I’d really considered.

A key change for me occurred about three years ago, when I moved out of the school office and was tasked with redesigning the administration area into a Leadership Hub.

This hub is where the non-teaching deputy headteacher and I now both work, and where our senior leadership meetings are held. I’ve become central to everything that goes on, from leadership meetings to ad-hoc discussions. All of this has helped shape my role and the impact of my work on teaching and learning outcomes for our children.

Gradual progression

When you’re the only one playing a full-time business role within a school, it takes confidence to stand up and question the viewpoints of teaching and academic staff. In an educational setting, being the one in charge of statutory and legal compliance does not always inspire!

However, even before the idea of leadership was on my radar, I realised my alternative perspective was exactly what made my role so important. Without a school business professional on the leadership team, the school could have easily strayed from its strategic vision, using valuable resources on areas that didn’t meet the needs of the development plan. I’m now quite happy saying: “Before we invest £4,500 on LearnPads, we must replace that carpet to make sure the building meets health and safety standards.”

I also found myself bridging the gap between support and teaching staff. Staffing costs are the biggest financial investment any school makes. Ensuring everybody is informed, consulted and considered brings far more rewards and value for money. Without realising it, I had experienced my first taste of leadership.

Networking the way to confidence

During my early time as an school business professional, the headteacher encouraged me to start networking on Twitter. I initially shied away from this, but soon learned what a fantastic resource it could be. We often work in isolation, but online, everybody can quickly connect, sharing blogs and other valuable information.

I saw that regional groups were being set up nationwide and realised we had nothing like that in South Gloucestershire. So I set up (and now chair) the South Gloucestershire School Business Leaders Group. Networking via social media gave me the initial confidence I needed to seek support from school business professionals who had already set up their own groups. Eventually I felt ready to organise meetings and conferences of my own; things I once thought I could never do.

I’m proud to say the school business professionals in my local network are delighted with the set up. By sharing experiences and best practice, there is no need to reinvent the wheel every time a new requirement crops up. From safeguarding and finance to health and safety, we work together to ensure everybody benefits, not least our schools.

From management to leadership

In all honesty, as a school business manager, I didn’t have an overwhelming desire to lead. However, because my role was allowed to evolve, I gradually became a fundamental member of the senior leadership team. Providing a voice to support staff, setting up and chairing local school business professional groups – these things gave me an appetite for leadership.

Since being promoted to school business leader, my position has become less operational. I’ve now established my strategic skills and can delegate operational tasks to the school’s fantastic support team. This gives me more time to advise the senior leadership team on how political, economic, technological, environmental and legal developments impact the school’s business function.

With the right role models and mentors to support development, I believe all school business professionals can take the fear out of leadership and find a path to pursue.

The responsibilities of school business professionals continue to evolve. Being a member of a professional institute will bring greater recognition to the role. It is essential we have opportunities in place for anyone looking to progress in the profession.

As such, by providing qualifications no longer available through the National College, I hope the ISBL will give school business professionals support in accessing a programme of legitimate training that reflects the professional standards created by NASBM. I say this confidently because I used these very same standards to re-write my job description when I became school business leader.

Looking ahead

In future, the challenges for all school leaders will be bigger, but I think the opportunities will be too. For example, the academisation of schools means more school business professionals will need to specialise. The potential economic effects of Brexit on the public sector will also increase the need for financial autonomy. But despite the hurdles, it’s a really exciting time. There’s so much opportunity to progress, to take on new challenges and training. Plus, by distributing leadership, headteachers can reconcentrate their efforts on teaching and learning.

I love being a school business leader. No two days are ever the same. While strategy, finance, HR planning, premises management and the like are crucial to the role, this is far from all that the job entails. It’s so varied.

However, for all the years I’ve been in the role, I’ve never once been bored. The best part? Getting to see the impact of my work by interacting with the children every day. It is pretty amazing to be part of that.

Of course, not every school business professional wants to lead. But there’s a big difference between those who don’t want to lead, and those who lack the confidence to believe they can. We must give people (particularly those new to the profession) the skills, support and opportunities to experience what effective leadership feels like. Get it right now and I think future generations will say: “When I grow up I want to be a school business leader!”

  • Debbie Beazer is school business leader at Blackhorse Primary School in Bristol.

Further information

The Institute of School Business Leadership (formerly the NASBM) is the professional body for school business leaders and offers training, qualifications, professional development opportunities and networking. Visit https://isbl.org.uk/


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