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How to Appoint the Perfect School Business Leader

October 7, 2019, 14:59 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Hilary Goldsmith looks at what headteachers should do if they want the perfect person to be overseeing their school support services
How to Appoint the Perfect School Business Leader

The school business profession covers a huge remit – leadership, strategic planning, finance, HR, payroll, administration, premises management, health & safety, catering, ICT, commercial activity, marketing and communications.

Your school might need some, or all of those areas covered by your new SBL, depending on your context – so before you dig out the advert you used last time and download the first SBL job description you can find on Google, here are a few pointers to think about…

1. Get the job description right

You can start with a generic one, of course, but spend some time tailoring it to the actual role you want your SBL to carry out. There’s nothing more off-putting than a generic job description, since it can indicate to potential applicants that you don’t really understand the role yourself.

2. Strategise

Prioritise the areas of the role to match where your school’s at on its improvement journey. If the next three years will be all about finance then say so. If you’ve got an expansion, or any building condition issues coming up, make sure that’s reflected in the advert and person spec.

3. Audit

Examine your existing SLT and middle leaders and understand the skills you already have around you. If you’ve got a fantastic premises manager, or an assistant head who’s an expert in data management, think about what you might be able to compromise on if your favoured candidate doesn’t excel in every area of the job description.

4. Spend time on the advert

No one wants a boring job, but neither do they want to be misled about the school’s position. A good SBL will be fascinated by the challenges of a deficit budget and a crumbling doer-upper, as it’s a chance to make a real difference.

5. Introduce the team

On interview day, let middle managers meet the candidates. They’ll ask the questions you didn’t even know needed asking, but which will be the ones that really matter to your support teams. Listen to their feedback before making a decision.

6. Set an evaluation task in advance

Instead of the usual 40-minute written finance task, consider setting some written work ahead of the interview and give the candidates 48 hours to work on it. It’s rare for an SBL to bash out an important piece of work in 40 minutes, so give them enough time to write you a professional report of the standard you’ll be expecting in future. If you’re worried about collusion you can insert some follow-up questions into the interview to test their knowledge, but remember that a large part of the SBL role is about ethics and trust.

7. Don’t make them do a PowerPoint presentation

It’s not in the natural skillset of most SBLs and likely to show them at their worst, rather than their best. By all means, test their ability to deliver complex messages – but do so in a meeting sat round a table where they can shine, not shake.

8. Be present

Many interview processes will hold the head in reserve for the panel interview like a diva, with maybe a five-minute introduction at the start of the day. Yet the relationship between a head and SBL is close and mutually supportive – you need to know if you can get on with this person, and they need to see the real you, not the public veneer. Wipe your diary for the day and spend some informal time with the candidates. This is an important appointment, unlike any other on your senior team, so it’s vital to get it right.

Hilary Goldsmith is a school business leadership consultant; for more information, visit or follow @sbl365

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