From school to academy and back, part II

Previously, SBM Sue Birchall outlined her career journey from primary school business development manager to finance manager/controller in an academy trust and shared what she learned about her profession and herself along the way. In this – the second of a two-part series – Sue returns to the role of ‘traditional’ school business manager – with added experience and knowledge

Having moved away from a finance position in a multi-academy trust I found myself lucky enough to be back in a school business manager (SBM) role – back to where I think I fit best. It had been more than eighteen months but I found that it was very much like riding a bike – you never forget.

The new role I was fortunate enough to secure is across two medium-sized secondary schools which have just come out of a hard federation. The previous SBM had been in post for a number of years so it all runs very smoothly. However, the challenge of the unknown remains – both are private finance initiative schools (PFI) – something that I haven’t worked with before.

Back to basics

How I relish the opportunity to work alongside my headteachers in a role which encompasses all areas of school management, using the knowledge and skills which I’ve honed during my time in the profession! Having been in post only a short time, I find that I am already making changes, identifying efficiencies and introducing new ideas. The aspects I missed while specialising in finance in a MAT are present in this more traditional role. I am a motivator, negotiator and innovator and love working on multiple tasks across multiple areas at the same time.

Lessons learned, experience gained

However, the skills and experience gained from working in the academy sector are invaluable. What I learned during my time at the academy trust I have put into practise in my current schools. For example, although the trust role was purely related to finance, the need to work towards audit with everything has given me a more rounded view of what I do. When you work with the local authority there’s a tendency to follow procedure – to do what is required – sometimes with limited understanding of ‘why?’ Mind you, this can happen in academies too!

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I have also been able to bring some of the purer vision of academisation – which can get lost in day-to-day operations – into my current role – namely the importance of collaboration. As well as collaboration between my two secondary schools – with me working across both – we’re also reaching out to local primary schools to offer ICT, HR and finance support. This is being done, not to make money for the lead school – although covering costs is important – but to encourage collaboration, build relationships and benefit from economies of scale.

The benefits for the primary schools lie particularly in finance; they gain access to a whole range of expertise, from a SBM through to basic finance support, for the same cost as having one member of staff. There are no absences for them to cover and they have support both operationally and strategically. All schools have the ability to purchase collaboratively and achieve economy of scale – and what a fantastic development opportunity for my team!

All in all, I think it’s clear that, in the current climate, I am happier working as what I class as a ‘whole SBM’. I accept that this isn’t for everyone but for me, at this time, smiles all round!

Read part I – From school to academy and back, part I – here

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