Academy blog: a case for the SBM role becoming more specialised


As academies continue to form with increasing regularity Graeme Hornsby, director of SBM Consultancy looks at how the responsibilities of an SBM may shift to become more specialised.  

Graeme Hornsby, director of SBM Consultancy
The fragmentation of the school system from a relatively standardised model of a single school with a governing body and head to an academy model is having a significant impact on the school business manager position.
The move for every school to have an effective school business manager initially owed a lot to the work of the National College in creating the framework of qualifications and promotion of the benefits the role could bring.  NASBM have continued to do good work in raising the profile of SBMs and when ASCL opened membership to SBM colleagues serving on secondary school SLTs the profile of a SBM as a school leader gained another boost.
In some larger schools the SBM role had fragmented prior to the emergence of multi-academy trusts (MATs) with, for example, the appointment of an in-house human resources officer to work alongside a finance and operations director.  Such fragmentation is becoming even more commonplace with the development of MATs which raises questions about the future of the SBM role in a single school.
In particular, how will responsibilities relating to finance, HR, administration and facilities change? Some trusts are already delivering efficiencies by having a lower level role in individual schools with mid or senior tier posts across a single or multiple group of schools and the roles may combine areas of business management or shift to being more specialist, such as chief finance officer. We are also seeing more senior roles emerge which seek to ensure effective governance across a trust – a long overdue development in my view and one with the potential to remove burdens from hard pressed volunteer chairs and trustees.
In this context plotting a career path can be challenging as an aspiring SBM may face choices about taking on a specialist role and qualifications in say finance and accountancy or a more generalist role with a SBM qualification. I suspect that in the future senior roles will be specialist in nature.
There are also considerations of line management and accountability. If the role fragments, how many employees should a CEO have? Or will we see even more radical change with the senior operational manager reporting independently to the board? It is my firm belief that many of the recent concerns about mismanagement in trusts could have been averted if a board had independent and senior level advice from a leading financial professional and a similarly independent governance advisor. Ideally I would like to see the principal finance officer be an ex officio trustee with the corporate responsibility this brings and a bespoke qualification for a secretary to the board.
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