As school business managers, we lead very busy work lives.
Given our range of responsibilities for finance, HR, site management and ICT we’re often running from one thing to another, dealing – often briefly – with numerous stakeholders both in and outside of our schools and academies. At certain times of the month and year we’ll be found heads down in our accounts and regulations paperwork, which can often cause us to isolate ourselves, largely through necessity.
It can sometimes feel that we’re not part of the wider ‘school life’ that everyone else enjoys, simply because we’re kept so busy keeping the cogs turning. But should we do more to try and integrate and be seen?
In my view, it’s imperative that our role be properly recognised for its importance to the success of our schools and academies, but for that to happen we need to be identified as being part of them. The job of SBM is often perceived by colleagues as one only concerned with money and regulation. Being seen around the building, getting involved in all aspects of the school day and working more closely with the teachers and children will help address this misconception. Because our role is very much about supporting the teaching and learning that takes place within schools and the subsequent outcomes, the same as any with any other member of staff.
‘But I’m so busy, I don’t have time!’ I hear you cry. Fear not – the positives of pursuing this strategy far outweigh the time investment. For one thing, the professional benefits can be quite significant. An ever-present risk for SBMs is that we can get bogged down in the sheer volume of administrative work piling up on our desks and lose sight of the reasons behind why we do what we do. Becoming more involved with the broader life of the school will give you a different perspective on how students benefit from your efforts and what your achievements within the role make possible for others.
Seeing how things work ‘on the ground’ will help inform your buying strategies and longer term planning with respect to the school’s finances and resources. Make yourself more accessible to staff and students, and encourage them to share their ideas, wants and needs with you.
For me, this has proved invaluable. I’ll often have my most inspired ideas when taking part in whole school activities, or when simply wandering around the premises. Myself and the head will frequently conduct parts of our weekly meetings while on the move around the school, as this helps us to plan and strategise. It also grounds what I think I know about my school, and gives context to senior level decision-making. My own profile within the school is raised, since I’m seen to be taking part in everyday school life. Colleagues have told me that I appear more approachable, which increases my sense of belonging and gives me greater satisfaction in my achievements.
Getting to know you
I’m always amazed at how contributions from my colleagues and students can inspire whole new directions or change something for the better. Generally, it’s the case that people won’t volunteer their views without being given an opportunity to do so. Making yourself available, and communicating that you’re ready to hear from them will put you in the best position to take these kind of contributions forward, often to the benefit of the school and those around you. So what should this involve in practice?
The route to raising your profile and contributing more to everyday school life can differ between the primary and secondary phases, but there are some common strategies that will apply, whatever role you’re in. Some of the following suggestions might be harder to action for those working in MATs with a heavy emphasis on centralised services, but even then, partaking in at least some of the below activities at each of your schools will always go down well with your colleagues.
Senior management duties
Carrying out senior manager duties during the school day, perhaps once a week, will get you ‘out there’ being seen, while giving you a chance to observe various goings-on around the school. Performing a weekly lunch or gate duty will introduce you to the wider school community and help you establish better connections with staff and students.
Taking part in whole school school activities can be rewarding, both personally and professionally. Earlier this year I attended the sports day at my secondary – as well getting to enjoy the event itself, being there gave me the chance to observe from an SBM’s perspective the impact of decisions taken with respect to the day’s organisation, health and safety arrangements and levels of parental engagement.
SBMs can be guilty of not taking breaks. Spending time with colleagues in the staff room isn’t necessarily something you should do every day without fail, but not doing so at all represents a missed opportunity. It’s a chance to meet colleagues on a more personal level and increase your sense of belonging. It presents opportunities to listen, which is something I try to do as often as I can – using what I hear to identify funding opportunities, share resources and inform practice. This can extend to staff activities outside school; the more visible you are, the more likely you are to be invited.
I take every opportunity to run training courses on anything from budget bidding to health and safety and school trips, or indeed anything else for which I have responsibility. Keep an eye on the staff training programme within your school. You can gain invaluable knowledge by developing your understanding of how other aspects of the school operate – and a better appreciation for how everything has a cost…
Getting involved in your School Council is a great way of meeting students and getting to know more about their desires and wants for their school. By taking part in School Council meetings, you can help guide their choices of projects and activities towards those that are achievable and sustainable, and which will deliver good value.
Parent forums and fundraising groups
Parent forums are useful for gaining external perspectives on a range of different areas, from uniform designs to the school’s marketing plan. Lending your expertise to fundraising projects can help staff and parents not only generate money, but use what they raise in a more effective way.
Teaching and learning
Being present in the classroom helps give value to what you do, and can open up opportunities for supporting your colleagues and the pupils. I’ve been known to offer my services to business studies and sixth form learning projects, and have helped support a number of classroom-based activities. At a primary school I previously worked at, I was involved in organising talent days and running salsa dance classes.
Involving yourself in all the above will help raise the profile of the SBM role among colleagues and pupils, build your knowledge and passion for the school and open up new opportunities for supporting various improvements and outcomes – making an already enjoyable job even better!
Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.