The entrepreneur: Business skills to burn

As the school business landscape continues to shift and reshape, the role of the school management team broadens. You need the skills and entrepreneurial know-how to thrive in a competitive environment, where running a school really is a business. MARIE CAHALANE speaks to RUSSELL DALTON, finance and business director at Pershore High School, about his school’s industrious endeavours

Russell, you’ve been known to compare the role of the SBM to that of the entrepreneur. Tell us a bit about yourself and the foundations of this approach

I came into my role around 12 years ago. Worcestershire – the local authority (LA) that I’m based in – has always been a low-funded LA and it seemed very clear to me from the beginning that the school couldn’t just rely on the funding received from the LA; we needed to look at how we could generate additional income ourselves. Many schools already look at lettings, for example, but – while that’s going to bring in a certain amount of income – we asked how we could generate larger sums. So we started looking at how we could provide services – how we could utilise our facilities better than we were currently doing – to generate that additional income. It stems back quite a long time really; it’s long been a necessity for schools in our area.

What is it about the unique role of the SBM that makes them ideal for pushing an entrepreneurial agenda?

Most SBMs sit on the leadership team; however, predominantly, they’ll be the only – and I don’t like to use the word ‘non’ but – non-teacher on that leadership team. So, what they bring to the SLT is a different perspective; they’re not just bringing a classroom practitioner’s way of thinking around how the school can be run and I think that’s the starting point. As an SBM, you come with a different mindset than just the teaching and learning aspect – which is fundamental, of course – but it’s the income generation that enhances this; the two need to match up. The driving force does need to come from somebody that has less of a teaching perspective and more of a bigger picture viewpoint, thus bringing new ideas around business. The SBM should know their school facilities inside out – they should know what the best and worst aspects of the school are and know the workings of the resources they’ve got. They should also realise and understand the potential of the human resources in the school – and I’m not just talking about the teachers, but also the support staff and what they can, potentially, offer. Is a member of your staff particularly good at social media or marketing, for example; assessing your assets is fundamental to the role.

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Pershore High School has displayed some serious business acumen. Tell us about the project that really got the ball rolling for you?

One of the areas we looked at from the very start was bringing catering in-house. There are two aspects of being entrepreneurial – one is the income and the second is the profit – so, it’s part income generation, part looking at where efficiency savings can be made. When we looked at catering we had to look at employing staff plus we were going to take on the liability for the equipment and facilities also – two big costs – and then the ordering, which meant there would be a specific time frame in place and further administration to consider. There were many business decisions to make around expenditure before we even started to discuss income. Fundamental to our success was the business plan I wrote. If you don’t write a business plan it’s just guess work. However, with a business plan, you’re recording what you want to achieve and understanding what’s required. It should include the basics, such as what’s your market, what expenditure’s required to get your business up-and-running and – based on your market knowledge/research – what you estimate your income will be.

After writing our business plan it became clear to me that, if we just catered for our school alone, we might make a modest profit, or none, so the key to success became expanding the business outside of our school. We quickly got other schools on board and started catering for local primary schools. This has since opened up discussions around what other services we can provide. It was a matter of seeing an opportunity and then exploiting it by providing other services that our resources allowed. The other thing is – and if we use catering as an example – if a school has a catering contractor any profit made by that contractor goes back to that company’s stakeholders but where a school is the contractor, any profit goes back into education and, as long as it’s an effective service, schools will likely prefer to buy from another school for this reason.

This is an abstract of an article that appeared in the May issue of Education Executive. You can read the full article here.

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