A collective approach to business management

Something that we have persistently been keen to promote at EdExec are the local and regional school business management groups that are evolving with the singular aim to support SBLs in their area. The Oxfordshire Academies Business Managers Group (OABMG) is now in it’s second year and set to hold it’s first conference. We spoke to some key figures to learn the importance of these groups and the opportunities for collaboration that they facilitate

There is a great movement towards collaboration in the school business management and leadership sector. Regional and local groups have always been a key element of this and are now developing at a rapid pace and we are seeing more pop up, find their feet and become established.

One such is the Oxfordshire Academies Business Managers Group (OABMG) – a collective of business managers from academies and multi-academy trusts (MAT) that seeks to resolve sector-issues collaboratively. The central idea of collaboration is essential given that local authority services are increasingly being rationed, government funding in general and specifically to support academies is being cut and more schools are converting to academy status and joining, or forming, MATs.

We all know the power of the collective, the pooling of resources and the efficiencies that come with procuring at scale; groups like OABMG allow for this level of exchange between members and members’ academies. This happens on a daily level across online forums, where questions can be posed and answers shared, in half-termly meetings, where issues can be resolved collaboratively, but also at conferences which are designed to support an exchange of information and ideas.

Targeted at a regional level

On March 6 the OABMG – which is now in its second year – will hold its first conference. Conferences such as this are an opportunity to engage colleagues from neighbouring counties and maintained schools and to dissect the challenges facing schools in what we all know to be a rapidly changing and uncertain environment, as well as to examine how schools can become more efficient and provide a value for money service – without compromising educational standards.

John Banbrook, business and finance director of the Faringdon Academy of Schools, who will speak at the conference, says compared to national events where information can be general, events that are targeted at a regional level provide tailored content that will be much more relevant to those in the area.

“It was felt that, as we embark on the toughest budget cycle for a generation, there was a need for a more focused conference which brings together local trusts who share similar funding, demographic, social and economic pressures. The [OABMG] conference will bring together school leaders, business management professionals and trustees from across the region to consider the ever-growing range of pressures impacting on education and an outstanding opportunity to network with colleagues from neighbouring trusts facing the same issues,” he says.

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Opportunities for development

School business managers are education facilitators; they ensure that students can keep on learning and teachers can keep on teaching – keeping classrooms staffed and kitted with the resources required, budgets balanced, facilities maintained, and so much more! However, this is not an easy task and having the right support is essential.

There are numerous platforms on which SBMs can engage with each other – for example, Twitter, online discussion forums – but sometimes it’s all about listening to others and meeting people in person rather than virtually. Conferences are an ideal space for this – after all, you gather with the mutual intention of learning and development.

“Schools are experiencing challenging times with considerable pressure on the breadth of the curriculum offer they are able to sustain whilst balancing tight finances and the pressures to deliver continued improved educational outcomes. The role of the school business manager is now an integral part of senior leadership teams in many schools and is very much focused on resourcing, processes and efficiency,” Michael Lawes, chief operating officer and joint CEO of Eynsham Partnership Academy explains.

“However, with such diversity it is impossible to be an expert in everything. At times the SBM will either need to get support and advice from colleagues, external experts or consider undertaking some training to identify personal strengths and potential gaps. The OABMG plays a vital role in securing such advice and support and the annual conference provides further opportunities for networking and professional development, ” he continues.

Developing school leaders

The sector is changing in terms of educational policy, management and operations – this naturally impacts your role. Networking and sharing best practice as well as undertaking professional development are key requirements to be able to adapt quickly and effectively to sector changes, something that Steven Gasser, executive director of professional development at ISBL, says that is a valuable aspect of attending business management conferences.

He says, “As the trend in favour of decentralisation of public services continues and a move towards a sector-led and self-improving education system develops, the level of technical expertise amongst the school business leadership community will need to rise to keep pace with organisational requirements.

“The development of school leaders across the pillars of pedagogy, governance and operational management must keep pace with reforms and events such as the OABMG conference will help to provide access and professional development opportunities that support the development of the profession.”

Learn more about the group and the conference.

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