Access to CPD for school business leaders in 2021

Val Andrew discusses how to access CPD in the world of the ‘new normal’

It has been clear for the last few years that most members of the first generation of school business leaders are now approaching retirement age –the sector stands to lose tons of experience, which is a real concern. However, through my involvement in delivering CPD for the profession-including the latest iteration of Diploma in School Business Management Level 4 programmes-it’s also clear that there is a new generation of school business leader emerging from the shadows, champing at the bit, keen and ever-eager to tackle the challenges ahead.

In this ‘almost’ post-pandemic era what then are the options for these eager new school business leaders with a real thirst for knowledge and information about the role and the profession more widely?

Traditionally, professional development for SBLs has included studying for specific qualifications linked to the areas of expertise required for the role –for example the remaining generic SBM qualifications (DSBM at Levels 4/5) various apprenticeship routes up to Level 7, or a range of more specialised courses and programmes in the separate disciplines that make up the SBL role such as finance, HR, project management, estates/premises management, data management etc.

Outside the realms of professional study, SBLs have had access to local and regional networking groups, local and national conferences and workshops, sessions run by various organisations-ASCL, ISBL, NAHT and others-guidance from DfE/ESFA, and the opportunity to attend whole school training at INSET days. This is not an exhaustive list, but you’ll note that most of these would have involved physical attendance.

I’m a huge advocate of face-to-face sessions; there’s nothing quite like seeing the whites of the eyes of your tutor/facilitator to reinforce their credibility and kudos, and to have the opportunity to network with other delegates over the table in professional discussion, or between sessions over a coffee. However, we are not yet ready for a full return to face-to-face engagement and, for the time being, having to settle for virtual engagement online. The burning questions are:

  • is this so bad?
  • is it detrimental to our new breed of SBLs?

My response to both of those questions is a resounding ‘NO’.

Studying for professional qualifications

Most training providers have transitioned their delivery models across to an online format very successfully. At Best Practice Network we record the online tutorials and workshops for participants to access if they are unable to attend the live session, there are online discussion forums during the live tutorials and on the VLE, and we have a series of 1:1 coaching sessions to support individuals with their studies. Online delivery allows participants to factor in their study time when it suits them best, without having to incur additional costs travelling to a training venue and taking time away from school, so can be tailored more directly to need and circumstances, and be cost effective at the same time.

Conferences and online workshops

There are real advantages to these virtual sessions too. Again, attending virtually removes the need to incur additional travelling costs or spend whole days away from the desk. Lots of online conferences now take place over several days, meaning you are able to dip in and out, and only attend the sessions of real interest. If you select the wrong workshop you can leave without the embarrassment of walking out –there’s every chance that nobody will notice if you just log out.

Regional SBL networking groups

These are undoubtedly an invaluable support mechanism for SBLs and also provide CPD opportunities too. Many of these groups have also transitioned their delivery to online platforms and have continued to operate during lockdowns. I expect many will resume face-to-face engagement as soon as the restrictions relax but, potentially, in areas of wider geographical reach some might retain online elements into the future, and adopt a hybrid approach – being ever mindful of the ongoing budgetary challenges that schools face.

Coaching and mentoring

This was already emerging as a popular choice for many SBLs even before the pandemic, but the opportunity to continue through online channels has increased the potential for this as another incredibly valuable support mechanism to help SBL professionals network and develop their own personal skills. The advantage is that specific, 1:1, focus on individual challenges and needs – this tailored approach is a powerful way of identifying which skills you need to develop and how this might be achieved.

The characteristics of good professional development include being rich in content, relevant to personal and professional needs, practice-focused, challenging and sustainable. All of the above delivery methods tick these boxes. Speaking to other training providers, the consensus is favourable for continuing with virtual delivery, based on feedback from their participants. A key advantage is the cost saving, mindful of the ongoing pressure school budgets are likely to experience and, whilst some sacrifices are necessary, it is still possible, with a little creativity and proactivity, to expand your network of ‘phone a friend’ colleagues even though you don’t meet them face-to-face.

Don’t forget that at virtual events there won’t be any queues for the toilets, you can nip and grab a coffee when you’re actually thirsty without anyone knowing, and you can still check your emails if you need to without the fear of a judgemental stare!

Val Andrew

  • Programme manager for Best Practice Network DSBM Level 4 – find out more here
  • Patron of ISBL
  • Formerly ASCL School Business Leadership Specialist (2010 – 2018)
  • Recipient of ISBL CEO Award for exceptional contributions to school business leadership in 2018
  • Semi-retired SBL and very proud grandma
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