A looming crisis? SBM recruitment and retention

That there is a teacher recruitment and retention crisis is a regular focus of the media. However, those in schools will know that the ‘crisis’ is more widespread than perceived by the general media – it includes teaching assistants, support staff, office staff and business leaders. With this in mind, we reached out to readers to ascertain whether there is a looming SBM recruitment and retention crisis
Andrew Blench, independent consultant at School Business Partner
I would say that the school business management role definitely isn’t for the faint hearted! I would say that it is the most interesting role I have had in my working career, but also the most challenging.
Interesting because you find yourself dealing with everything in a school that you might find in a large company. For example, I was astounded early on in my career to find out that we had to have someone in school with radiological protection officer training (secondary only)! Challenging because you soon find out that there is an invisible sign on your desk saying, ‘The buck stops here!’ Specifically for all matters not directly related to the teaching of students.
Most of the SBLs I have come across have been drawn from the worlds of financial services and accountancy, human resources or facilities management – all good grounding for anyone coming into the profession. I still see the profession as an attractive option for anyone from those backgrounds and now that there is a wide range of routes into qualifying as an SBL this has opened up the profession to more people. This should make recruitment easier!
One change I have seen since I entered the profession in 2003 is an increased emphasis on recruiting people who have accountancy qualifications. I know that this is driven by the needs of academies who must comply with UK accountancy protocols. But I am not convinced that this is essential – even the DfE says that it isn’t an essential requirement – to the role and may deter people who would be ideal from applying.
The greatest challenge for recruitment and retention, I would say, is the fragmented nature of the school system and governance arrangements. But where an SBL can work with senior colleagues and governors/trustees who have a strong sense of moral purpose the potential to impact young people’s lives for the better is enormous!
Stephen Mitchell, chief operating officer, Spencer Academies Trust, Nottingham
One of the real risks that we have in the sector is that we continue to be inwardly focused – siloed – something that seems to be prevalent across much of the education sector. There is a historical bias that says the best placed people to recruit are those that already work within the sector.
I find this alarming, as it ignores the diverse range of transferable skills that candidates from outside the sector may have which would be immensely useful to our schools in favour of relying upon people that have experience in the sector. And, I think we can all agree that we all draw upon our experiences from outside the school gates to help us find creative solutions to the myriad problems we face every day.
The ideal candidate may already be working in a school somewhere – and great if they are – but, they may also be working in finance or commercial purchasing.
One of the great truths about the way the world works is that innovation is driven by changes – frequently across sectors – and people bringing different opinions to the way things work. It is true that the regulatory and funding environment in which schools operate is becoming increasingly difficult and complex – which will mean that we have to change the way we work – but I don’t think that means there is a recruitment or retention crisis for SBLs.
I do see a trend though towards less general SBL roles and concentrating activities within specific teams across schools, or MATs. This should give rise to greater efficiencies and improved quality outputs. The challenge for all SBLs is to ensure that we are managing our teams and functions in the most effective way possible.
High-quality operations management folk will always be in demand – the key challenge for us will be recognising the skills that our schools need and having recruitment practices that are fit for purpose in meeting that need.  After all, finance, HR, IT, estates, health and safety, marketing, etc are all functions that also exist outside of the school world.
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