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NFER March 2020
NFER March 2020

Preparation is key but remember to listen when you start a new position

March 3, 2020, 7:43 GMT+1
Read in about 8 minutes
  • So you’re in a new school, what now? Sue Birchall is here to guide you...
Preparation is key but remember to listen when you start a new position

So you’ve made the choice to either move schools or join the profession of school business management, something that will always bring an element of apprehension.

Not because it is a scary role, more because each school setting is different and how your skills will be used effectively will vary. It is this difference that keeps the old hands such as myself in the profession.


You will have carried out some research before you applied and hopefully paid a visit. This and your experience at interview is a good measure of the expectation of the school or academy for your role.

There is sometimes a handover from the previous incumbent which may help with your integration into the school community and to see how the school performs operationally.

However, if this is not offered or possible there are ways of measuring these operations even before you start. As part of your research on application a read of the Ofsted report is a must.

While it won’t tell you much operational detail for the business side, you can get a feel of the direction of the school and its priorities, especially if it is an RI or is in a category.

The new Ofsted framework which includes some measure of financial propriety will of course be more useful. Along with this, if the new school is an academy you can check the last accounts and see what position it is in which gives you a head start.

Using DfE benchmarking data will show you historical spend and the budget pressures along with a comparison with similar schools.

All you need is the school’s URN number, which can be found here, which replaced the previous Edubase service.

Another mine of information is the local authority schools’website, whether you are an academy or maintained school there will be lots of gems here. These with an in-depth look at their own website will offer you an insight into your chosen school and enable you to start work with some background knowledge.

If you are an inexperienced SBM or new to the profession, the ISBL website has a wealth of information including the SBM competency framework.

This will give you advice and guidance on the expectations of the Business Manager role and a starting point or path for development if you are moving to a different phase or bigger school.

Being aware of the level of responsibility that you will face and what the expectation is will put you on the correct path from the outset.

As a Headteacher employing an SBM for either the first time or for a bigger role, this website will give you all of the information that you need to make an appropriate appointment for your school or academy.

Make yourself known

So you have carried out your research, filled your bank of knowledge for the school, academy or trust for whom you will work and it’s your first day, what now?

I have changed schools a few times in my career and have always found that making myself known to the stakeholders in the school is particularly important.

Not only does it make you feel like you belong (the role of an SBM can be quite isolated) you are an integral part of school life and putting a face to a name is vital to enable you to carry out your responsibilities.

Making sure you are listed on the website, included in all e-mail groups, are on the staff list and have all of your e-mail addresses and permissions set up from the outset means you can hit the ground running.

I have found that being in staff meetings, morning briefings and also being seen around school means that staff and students are aware that there is someone new.

I like to start producing newsletters for the areas that I am responsible for straight away thus letting staff know that it is business as usual and reminding them of deadlines and responsibilities.

This allows me to share my contact details and be instantly available for queries, new and outstanding.

Make sure that the business continuity plan, finance risk assessment, all policies and any key documents are updated with your details and that bank signatories and any cheque/ credit cards are applied for as well.

Having the previous Business Manager or Finance Officer’s e-mail redirected to you will mean that you will have an instant list of all or the contacts for the business operations. Rather than contacting everyone this allows you to rationalise them as you are likely to have your own preferred suppliers etc.

Listen and learn

There are several trains of thought about whether or not you move to a new position and listen and learn and then make changes or whether you go in with your own ideas and alter things straight away.

Which approach you take will depend on you as a leader but should also be informed by your recently attained knowledge of your new school.

The make-up of your team, their attitude to change and your position within the school structure will affect the ability you have to make change.

I am a change advocate and like to make an instant impact by bringing with me tried and trusted methods but have learnt in each move the need to listen and be prepared to temper my plans.

Probably the most important relationship that you will have in your school or academy is with your Headteacher or Principal. Establishing this early on will allow you to achieve some parity in working practises and ideas.

Regular meetings are a must so that expectations and concerns can be shared on both sides for all areas of the school operation. You should also push to be on the senior leadership team, I have learnt so much from just attending, often with little input from me.

Having a working relationship with your governors is also important and can be achieved by attending monitoring and governors meetings early on.

As someone who has been in the profession a while and worked across the phases, if asked my advice would always be to start prepared and spend lots of time listening, using what you hear to guide change and make your new role work for you.

Key points to consider when starting in a new school

  • Do your research both before you start and after
  • Make yourself known to all stakeholders of the school
  • Familiarise yourself with the local authority and/or your trust
  • Manage change well
  • Above all else enjoy it – each school is different and has its own challenges, this is part of what keeps us coming back for more!

Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.

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