Justine Berkely on the role of the school business manager

Justine Berkely, managing director of SBM Services, on the role of the school business manager

Given the volatile nature of the education sector, Justine Berkely, managing director of SBM Services, takes a look at how the role of the school business manager is evolving and reminds us that this is a time of opportunity for SBMs

The SBM role seems to have expanded. What would you say are the main changes you’ve seen?

I’m not sure the role of the SBM has expanded as it has always covered a wide range of functions. However, I think there is now a greater focus on how important the role has become because the education landscape is moving so rapidly. While some aspects of the role may have been neglected historically by SBMs this is no longer an option if schools are to keep pace and respond effectively to the changes and challenges ahead. Working with schools across the country the main changes we have seen are:

  • More complex SBM leadership roles across a group of schools;
  • An increased requirement for higher level accountancy skills to meet the financial reporting requirements of academies;
  • The requirement to have clear marketing strategies to support teacher recruitment and income generation;
  • The necessity for an increased knowledge of HR practices to support organisation remodelling and change management.

SBMs should not be worried that they may not have all the skills for every professional discipline the role covers

How can SBMs rise to the challenge?

To ensure SBMs can rise to the challenge of managing change they need to carry out a self-evaluation of their skills to assess what areas could be developed. Using the NASBM professional standards is a great starting point and will help SBMs to evaluate both the specialist technical knowledge they require and also the leadership and management skills that are needed. This will then inform their personal professional development plans.

One of the best communication tools to ensure everyone is aware of the work an SBM is doing

SBMs should not be worried that they may not have all the skills for every professional discipline the role covers but they must ensure they engage at the right time with others who do have the expertise to support in certain areas.

Budgets, HR, management…SBMs have always played a central role in schools. How can they ensure they continue to play a crucial role in future developments?

Any SBM who can demonstrate they are having an impact and are supporting school improvement will be listened to and will secure a place on the senior management team. The important thing for SBMs is to make sure they spend their time focusing on the areas that are the highest priority.

Recently we have started to see the SBM role get broken down into specialist roles such as marketing directors, finance directors and HR directors

One of the best communication tools to ensure everyone is aware of the work an SBM is doing – and to co-ordinate improvement across all the business functions of a school – is to write and deliver a support services development plan. This should cover all the functions of the role and the key priorities and actions to be taken, in the same way the school has a development plan for raising attainment. Once an SBM is able to showcase what they have achieved all stakeholders will understand the direct impact a high performing SBM has. In this plan you should focus on how you have:

  • Reduced staff absence through the absence management and wellbeing strategies that have been implemented.
  • Saved costs by centralising back office functions across a group of schools.
  • Implemented new technology in the classroom which has extended and enhanced pupil’s learning experiences.
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What options are available to SBMs in terms of CPD?

As the SBM role is so diverse there are many CPD routes they could take. Recently we have started to see the SBM role get broken down into specialist roles such as marketing directors, finance directors and HR directors. So, a SBM may choose to become a specialist and, perhaps, take accountancy exams such as ACCA or become a qualified HR practitioner by going down the CIPD route.

I certainly think having at least one specialist field in the current climate strengthens an SBM’s CV. Experience in project management and change management, as well as keeping abreast of the changing landscape, will also help SBMS rise to challenges and support the transitioning and moulding of their schools.

How do you see the evolution of the SBM role in the future?

There are some amazing opportunities for SBMs right now. There are opportunities to provide strategic leadership, leading and managing support functions across a range of schools in a variety of contexts along with opportunities to actually become a specialist in one discipline within the role, such as finance director or HR director. I have worked in the profession for over 15 years and this is the most exciting time I have seen for SBMs yet.

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Justine Berkeley is managing director of SBM Services, fellow of the NASBM and has over 15 years of experience in the sector

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