CPD should not be a luxury, yet it so often is for SBMs. Caroline Collins, an experienced SBM, explores why it can be so difficult to attend CPD events – and some ways around those challenges
We all know the importance and value of continued professional development to allow professionals to retain knowledge and upskill themselves, but how often do school business managers actually leave the office to attend a CPD event? There seem to be two burning issues for SBMs in terms of attending external training and conferences – finding the time and justifying the cost.
Ask any SBM when a good time is for him or her to attend an external CPD event and you will probably be met with a response, “There isn’t a good time”. Our range of responsibilities means we have deadlines throughout the year that we have to meet, so there really isn’t a good time.
In the autumn term we are tied up with new staff, new pupils and the autumn census; in the spring term we are working on our end-of-year accounts and budget setting; in the summer term we are dealing with finalising the new budget and managing the end-of-year school transfers. In-between these key tasks we have our everyday and ad-hoc jobs relating to everything that is non-teaching.
Then there is the matter of cost. While other staff members might think that a course is a little expensive but apply to attend anyway, SBMs have money-saving at the forefront of their minds all the time. If we think a course is expensive we won’t even ask to go on it because that is the nature of the SBM.
In the current climate many schools are drastically reducing – or even freezing – their CPD budgets, so taking a day out of school for CPD is a luxury more than a necessity as schools struggle with reduced budgets and higher spends. But we all know that the SBM role is regularly hit by changes to practice and legislation, both nationally and locally, and CPD is crucial to keeping on top of things and to ensuring that we are doing things the right way.
SBMs get invited to conferences throughout the year and it’s often a challenge to decide whether or not we should attend. You might find many conferences tend to have similar themes so check agendas before you book on; if two conferences are very similar, with one having that little extra that you’re looking for, then you would, of course, go for the one with the little extra. If your school has not frozen the CPD budget then think about attending just one conference each year and look carefully for the one that has the best and most appropriate content for you.
You might be in a school that has stopped staff from attending external courses or, at least, reduced the number of courses and conferences that they can attend. CPD is not restricted solely to external events by professional providers and, in fact, the CPD Standards Office defines CPD activities as ranging from, ‘instructor-led training, workshops or seminars to more informal approaches such as work-based learning or mentoring’. There are a wealth of opportunities that SBMs can use to develop their skills, including local network groups, local mentoring, work-based learning and research.
Joining a local network group
I have mentored a number of SBMs and the first piece of advice I give is to join a local group. Do not underestimate the value of communicating with local SBMs – whether they are in the same type of school as you or not. Sharing practice is a great method of enhancing and upskilling yourself; to be able to email your local SBMs, even if only to ask a simple question, is very effective. Sometimes you find answers to questions you didn’t realise you had!” Some local groups are very active, others less so but, even if they only meet up once a term, email communications are a great source of development. If you find there is no local group then why not make the first move and set one up – it will benefit you and all the other SBMs in your area.
Work-based learning and research
The SBM role is a specific one with many different areas to cover – it isn’t possible to be knowledgeable in all areas and sometimes what we need to know isn’t something that we can ask about. Research and work-based learning might be the only way to get to grips with what it is you need to know; subscriptions to magazines such as Education Executive, and similar publications, will help as they tend to cover a vast array of topics. You might not find your answer immediately but keeping them to hand means you can come back to them time and time again.
These days, social media is an amazing source of intelligence. When I first joined Twitter in 2010 there were only a small number of SBMs using it but, as the years have passed, this community has grown and I would have to say they are the most forthcoming, helpful group of tweeters I have come across. If you’re not on Twitter I’d urge you to join it, and if you are, but not yet using it for SBM work, then I suggest you find some SBM tweeters and start following them. Look for me @Caroline_261 and then follow the SBM tweeters that I follow.
Most of us enjoy attending conferences but the reality is that the cost of sending us out, along with the ever increasing demands of the job, often leaves us unable to attend this form of training. By being an independent learner, and sourcing your own means of development, you can learn things at your own pace, in your own way, without leaving the comfort of your office chair and at no cost to the school.
So make the most of this publication, other publications and the world of social media. Finally, make Google your friend – you will always find a solution to your questions when Google is behind you.