REVIEW: Revisit EdExec LIVE South with us

On May 23 EdExec LIVE took place at 30 Euston Square. Our biannual SBM event is one not to be missed – delivering seminars on school business management and providing a dynamic setting for networking. Here we step-back into Euston Square and relive the learning, networking and discussions that made it an unforgettable day

For those who work on the front-line of school business management – those who keep the wheels of education in motion – we know that you’re ever faced with changes and new challenges. Keeping up-to-date is a project that requires constant work and attention – in terms of continuous professional development as well as being aware of legislative reforms and additions, new innovations and technologies, teacher shortages, budget cuts…to name but a few. Like the education sector, the role of the SBM is in continuous flux – thus the opportunity to network, to share experiences and knowledge, to enter discussions and learn from others is paramount – and that’s what EdExec LIVE is all about.

Start as you mean to go on

Just like Education Executive magazine, EdExec LIVE is dedicated to, and led, by SBMs. Content is king and there are plenty of opportunities to network. This year we kicked off proceedings with a keynote featuring three distinguished panellists – Caroline Collins, head of school business strategy and resources at Miles Coverdale Primary School, Sue Birchall, financial controller at the Leigh Academy Trust and Jo Marshall, SBM at Uplands Infant School, Leicester.

The debate was rooted in the upheaval being experienced in the education sector – something reflected in the role of the SBM – and the opportunities arising from this for those who seek them out. The points raised resonated with delegates who, in turn, shared their concerns, their victories and their advice. The aim was to stoke the debate and provide a point of reference which delegates and speakers could discuss and chew over throughout the day – as one delegate, Debbie Attard, said, “The keynote speakers were really good and it was also great to be able to chat to them during the rest of the day.

Getting down to business

The panel discussion set the tone for the day – a day of engagement and lively discussion. Neil Clephan, former head at Roundhay School, Leeds, put his 20-plus years of headship to great use in his practical workshop on the pupil premium (PP). Sharing what he had learned from 12 Ofsted inspections (!) his outlook was clear – outcomes are the driving force behind the creation of an effective PP plan. Central to discussions between Neil and his audience were how to best form objectives and success criteria that show how SBMs have spent PP; the consensus was that this doesn’t have to be prescriptive and can, in fact, be a creative process.

The theme of transparency was also prioritised with Neil recommending the publication not only of the amount of PP provided on your school website but also a section showing how those funds will be spent – providing good information for parents and a most welcome body of evidence for inspectors. If participants left with one word ringing in their ear, it was ‘impact’. SBMs need to make sure that all parties – central government, inspectors, local authorities, governors, parents – are fully aware of the impact PP funding is having on disadvantaged children. Delegates were advised to produce evidence of how pupil progress has improved year-on-year and to clearly show the success of decisions aimed at narrowing attainment gaps.

Justin Smith, managing director of Chameleon Training and Consultancy, delivered ‘Hear me, see me’ – a session on school marketing and branding. He soon had his audience chuckling at his story of how a simple picture on social media – of a digger on school grounds preparing for construction work at his school (Wymondham College) – generated huge online traffic. This image outstripped  all other posts and written communications with parents and stakeholders about the school building project. One audience member said the same was true for her school after they posted a picture of a baby chicken hatching during a lesson!

These examples tied into the wider message of the session – that the importance of your school brand is critical to its reputation. Justin spoke of the benefits of ensuring brand consistency with school values, exploring how this can support recruitment and community development. He shared learning from his early days at Wymondham College, developing a small alumni network that began with two former students providing £2,000 for improved cricket facilities – and of taking the risk of cancelling an expensive radio advert about the school. “Guess what? Nothing happened when it ended and I was able to immediately recoup thousands of pounds to spend on newer marketing materials,” he recalled.

Justin’s other take-away message was that, if there’s a better or more effective way of branding, don’t be afraid to try it out – even if you’ve been in the job for years there’s always scope for improvement and new ideas. For example, after 18-months at Wymondham, finding his way around the rather expansive secondary campus still proved problematic. “I remember standing smack, bang in the middle of the school and thinking, ‘We’ve no signage directing pupils and staff!’” This was soon made a priority, Justin said, showing the power of self-assessment and the benefits of change.

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Afternoon delights

The EdExec day is structured so that delegates can get the maximum out of their time and optional sessions run during the breaks. One such session was ‘You make your own luck’ with Nicky Gillhespy, chief operating officer of the LEO MAT and SBM at Cheam Fields Primary. Nicky’s session packed out the room as she delivered a presentation that one delegate termed ‘inspirational’. Giving a personal account of her career thus far – the ups and the downs – Nicky made one very important point: you must remain optimistic, confident and defiant.

Recounting the journey that the role of SBM had taken her on, Nicky shared some great achievements, including being a member of the NAHT’s SBM National Executive Committee and also some of the obstacles that she’s had to overcome. One thing that came to light in the morning’s panel discussion is that, while SBMs are invaluable assets to their schools, sometimes the recognition deserved is not forthcoming. For SBMs starting out, and for those who have been playing the game for a while, Nicky’s message was all about resilience – you know you deserve recognition and must be sure that you fight for it.

Next Richard Harrison shared his school’s story – looking at the relationships forged and maintained and how this has benefited the school. Richard is director of community engagement at Regent High School – taking care of the school’s communications and partnerships work, managing their brand, publications, events and partner relationships. Situated in London’s Knowledge Quarter, Regent High School is ideally positioned to build relationships with local organisations – something that Richard and his team use to the advantage of students and school. Relationships with local organisations are a resource that schools – given current financial pressures – can’t afford to miss out on. Discussing the importance of developing such relationships, Richard explored the central role they can play in delivering a broad education and how you can develop such relationships with those in your area.

Useful…informative…inspirational

The level of lively interaction throughout the event really added value to the day. EdExec LIVE is, at heart, all about finding and sharing solutions, starting discussions and learning from experiences as delegate Julie Nicholas found out – “A thoroughly informative and fun day out to think and reflect.” The learning exchange and input from speakers was augmented by the attendees who brought their questions, answers and desire to address challenges and share their experience and advice with others – something which delegate June Thompson highlighted. “Again, a useful and informative day, great networking and inspirational people” and another SBM tweeted after the event, “Excellent day #EdExecLIVE in London yesterday! Time to put some of my findings into practice…#inspired #sbm @EdExec”.

Networking was a core component of the day. The SBM community is growing exponentially and the number of social media outlets for SBMs is growing too. Twitter and LinkedIn were both cited during the panel debate as invaluable resources for SBMs where they engage with one another, posting and sharing useful ideas and articles and supporting one another – but it’s good to meet colleagues in the real world too. EdExec LIVE offers a great, and rare, opportunity to talk with colleagues you’ve met in the virtual world of social media and to form new relationships that can be of benefit to you and your school in the future. Time well spent, according to Elizabeth Bart-Williams, “This will rank as probably my best seminar and networking event to date. I have absolutely no regrets for the time spent and will be implementing all the great insight I gleaned. Well done, and kudos!”.

Take home thoughts

There were a couple of recurring themes throughout the day. The education sector is going through seismic changes and the role of the SBM is shifting with it – it’s up to each individual SBM to decide what this means to them and to find opportunity in what might otherwise seem a difficult situation. As Nicky Gillhespy said, “You make your own luck”.

Autonomy also brings responsibility and, as schools become more business-like, the role of the business manager is becoming more complicated and demanding. CPD is a key resource for SBMs because knowledge breeds confidence, and confidence will lead to securing your place as an active member of your SLT. The business management side of schools is of equal importance to the educational side – who keeps the schools doors open, balances the budgets and does everything else that is part of the unwritten job description of the SBM?

One message reverberated round the EdExex Live venue on 23rd May; the SBM role is an exciting one – flexible and diverse – and those who get into the role do it because they are passionate about doing their best and delivering all they can for their students and their schools. Resilience is a key trait of SBMs, as is a willingness to find the good in the difficult. So, from the team here at EdExec HQ, thank you to all who attended and we hope that you will join us again next year.