SBM role: chicken and mushroom pie, or meatballs

‘We want to hear from you! Every SBL has a story – we’d like to hear yours. If you’d like to share your professional journey, please get in contact…’ we recently tweeted from @EdExec. Then we received the following from one primary school business manager. Needless to say, this led to great reflection on our part – no doubt you will experience the same…

As I sit here completing the menu choices of the year 5 children who are soon to go on a residential trip to York, my mind wanders to EdExec’s recent tweet about SBLs all having a story. I am a school business manager at a primary school of almost 300 children. I’ve been here for nearly five years, over which time I have watched schools amalgamate to form MATs, federations and the like, and I have seen the creation of massive roles for people – executive headteachers and executive school business managers – and now ‘school business managers’ have become ‘school business leaders’.

Since I started here I have improved the income of the school and managed the budget effectively so that we have been able to increase staffing and make big improvements to the school’s outside area. I have taken the school to a green level of audit and greatly improved communication with our parents. But, does that mean I should now be a ‘school business leader’?

A rose by any other name

How does a title change the role? What is the purpose of this new title – other than to chase something that is totally removed from the main aim of the role? Yes, I understand that now a school, particularly if it’s an academy, is run a bit more like a business but, if you drill down to the core business and what it’s all about, it is still a school. However you change the name or the job title, or however you brand the school, it’s all about the children, their education and giving them the best opportunities available.

I am responsible for our budget, for HR, for health and safety and for everything else that modern-day school business leaders tweet about, but I have no interest in my job title. This does not mean that I’m not interested in a career or wish to belittle my role here. However, I do worry that, in a world where I read about what meetings and presentations SBLs have attended, what books are on their reading lists and what strategies they have to manage stress, they have lost sight of what the whole role is about. In my view, we are there to support the school as a whole and the overarching aim is to ensure that the children have the best outcomes by managing the budget and resources to ensure that we are able to do this. I think that the best way to do this is to get to know the children, the staff and how it all comes together to achieve this one aim. To me, it is very important to be part of the school. It is very important that I know all the children’s names and have an awareness of their lives in school and out of school.

The heart of everything that is

When I show prospective parents around I tell them that the office is a massive part of the school – not only in terms of the administration but also in the way we interact with, and help, the children. We encourage children to come to the office – we don’t shut our door or turn them away. I attend PTA meetings so that I can have a link with the parents which will give me an idea of what they think of the school, how we can improve things or what resources they would like to see. I make sure that I talk to parents at the end of the day if they have any issues that could potentially grow and become damaging.

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I build on my relationship with parents all the time and see this as a big part of my job. Because of this they trust me and will talk to me about most things as they know that the welfare and happiness of the children at our school is of paramount importance to me and to all the staff in our school.

Recently, I have been joining residential trips; this helps me get to know the children better and, as I do most of the planning, organising and collecting of monies, it also enables me to see if we are getting value for money, that the companies that we use are doing things properly and assess whether I can find better ways of doing things for next time.

I like to attend the children’s performances and, in the last couple, I have featured in them! I always go to the year 6 prom and it makes me immensely proud to see the children celebrating their time at our school – a school that I have worked with our team to shape and improve.

Of course, this relationship with parents and children can be a hindrance to my core role. If I am in the middle of a complicated budget transaction and I need to speak to a parent about something, it can be very frustrating. Of course, I need to finish the budget – I have a deadline to meet – but what is most important? The child and the parent – they MUST take priority all the time.

A cautionary tale

So SBLs, be careful. The school is a school, not a business. The children are the heart of the school. Be careful not to make your role too corporate. If I wanted to sit in an environment where I tweeted about the latest ‘buzz’ word, the latest book to add to the staff library and the latest tool to plan my strategy for next year, then I would not work in a school. I see little point in working in a school if I don’t know the child that comes to ask me for a new handwriting pen.

I am aware that I may upset a few people by writing this but, it comes from my heart. I am also aware that, in larger schools, it can be impossible to know the children so well but, in my view, the SBM, SBL or the ancient school secretary (as per David Walliams’ Demon Dentist!) should still make an effort to be a part of the big school picture in order to carry out their role properly.

My role is important, as is my career development. My way of doing things does not detract from this or the importance of my role within the school. But often, as you work on building your career, you lose sight of your original aims and the real purpose of what you are working for. In your quest to show the world that you are more efficient, don’t forget the children. So – Katie in Base 1 – do you want chicken and mushroom pie or meatballs for dinner on Tuesday?

This article featured in the March issue of Education ExecutiveSubscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.

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