At 17 years old, I walked into my new job as an administrative assistant at a school in north London. Over the next six years that I spent working in the school office we had five different headteachers and four different school business managers, including myself.
To say we experienced many highs and lows while I was there would be an understatement. But then one day, a simple Google search changed the course of my life.
In December 2014, I left my job to launch an online service called Medical Tracker, aimed helping schools manage student injuries and medical conditions.
My journey began when, during a performance appraisal, I suggested to headteacher number three that I wanted to follow in my mum’s footsteps – a 30-year school office veteran – and be placed on the Certificate of School Business Management course at Anglia Ruskin University.
Little did I know then that this step up in responsibility, along with the skills and expertise I’d learn on the course, would eventually gift me the knowledge and confidence to successfully run a service now used by over 11,000 school staff.
I’ve learnt two key lessons since that fateful December – that every SBM possesses the skills needed to run a business, and that running a business is very much like running a school. Looking back, I see how I could have done many things better on the path to where I am now, but three in particular really stick out:
Synergy: Having launched Medical Tracker, I quickly realised that our sales, support staff and developers needed to work in synergy if our main objectives were to be reached.
This maps directly on to how schools manage their staff and processes.
Be sensitive to any issues your teaching staff might be struggling with, and consider asking them – perhaps via a survey – whether any improvements in your office processes might be able to help.
Steps like this can start to address the gaps between teaching and support staff that I still see in some of the schools we work with.
Networking: What’s amazing about the education sector is people’s willingness to help each other.
If someone’s able to assist you with solving an issue, dispense some advice or check over something you’re having trouble with, chances are they will.
If there isn’t an active SBM Group in your local area, you can start one of your own. Those new to the role of SBM can email some local schools to ask if, and how often they meet.
Whether it’s to leverage group buying power, discuss best practice or simply meet people who can provide useful advice, effective networking can save you much time and effort.
Time management: Governor meetings, forecasting, contracts, policies, grants, recruitment – an SBM’s daily list of tasks can seem endless.
Take time to step away and work smarter, rather than harder.
It sounds like a cliché, but there really are tasks you’ll do each week, or even each day, that can be automated, or else delegated to a colleague who’d relish the opportunity to take on a higher level responsibility – think bank reconciliation, payroll or creating invoices for school room rentals.
Given the ever-growing list of jobs now attached to the role, SBMs have had to adapt and become inventive.
Liaising with SBMs in other schools and delegating certain tasks to junior office colleagues can give you the inspiration, space and time needed to really improve the processes in your school.
Why not start this week? Ask your teaching staff, perhaps via a Google Forms or Survey Monkey questionnaire, what they’re struggling with, and whether any changes to your office processes might help.
Luke O’Dwyer is the co-founder of Medical Tracker.