Being part of an SBP network is a great way to meet others also working in what can be a very isolated role. So, how can you join one near you? Or, if there isn’t one near you, how can you set one up?
Joining an existing network
There are currently over 100 school business professional networks across the UK. The DfE can put you in touch with an established network so you can ask questions directly and benefit from peer-to-peer support. To see if there’s a network near you check the School Business Professional Networks Directory.
Creating a new network
You can create your own network if there isn’t one near you. The DfE are keen to support new networks and you can contact the DfE School Commercial team at [email protected] for help and information.
Structuring your new network
It’s best to form a working party or committee to start your network. This doesn’t need to be on a formal basis initially; it should be a small group of people with a common vision and sense of purpose to share the workload.
As your network grows you may want to create a constitution and elect committee members. Whatever structure you choose, it needs to suit the size of your network and be able to develop according to your network’s needs.
Some groups charge a membership fee to cover the cost of room hire or meeting refreshments; if your network is small, this may not be necessary. You can also negotiate free access to meeting spaces.
If you do charge a membership fee, you’ll need to ensure finances are organised appropriately and managed transparently.
Who to invite
The most successful networks have an inclusive approach to membership. Often, they’ll start with a few people, but will expand over time. Inviting other professionals from diverse organisations such as primary, secondary, academies and maintained schools, faith schools and so on, will lead to more effective sharing of best practice and ideas.
Building a broad membership will ensure:
- the network is sustainable;
- the workload is shared;
- there will be new ideas;
- a range of best practice is shared.
Being inclusive, flexible and adaptable is key to attracting members to your network and retaining them.
Getting the most out of your network
The most successful networks combine face-to-face meetings, emails, online forums and direct contact with individual colleagues. You can also meet using telephone conferencing tools such as Skype.
One major benefit of networks is the opportunity for members to develop their skills and knowledge. You could use your network meetings to provide training, sharing the cost among members.
Setting up a meeting
You need to think about the length and frequency of meetings. Short meetings provide a good focus for debate and will not take up members’ time excessively. Full-day meetings that happen less frequently work well if members have long travelling times and can’t attend as often.
Selecting a chairperson and setting up an agenda
Asking someone to chair the meeting will help keep discussion on track. Circulating an agenda in good time allows members to know what to expect, attend meetings most interesting to them, and prepare accordingly.
If your network members represent diverse organisations you may have challenges in developing an agenda that’s relevant to everyone. You can overcome this by having:
- collective meeting sessions involving all members;
- sessions where members are grouped to focus on matters specific to their situation and needs.
Successful networks will often arrange collective sessions before moving into focused sessions in one network meeting.
Inviting others to present
It’s good to invite other organisations and specialists to deliver presentations, but make sure there’s time to discuss local issues – these are usually the most beneficial for members and will often identify topics for future meetings.
Promoting your network
There are many ways you can promote your network. Word of mouth can be very effective and your members will have contacts in organisations such as unions, schools forum, local authorities, headteacher associations and governor groups. Social media can also be a successful way of growing your network and engaging with peers in other regions.
You can help other professionals find and join your network by registering with:
- DfE Schools Commercial team: contact [email protected] to request a registration form for your network to appear on GOV.UK. After verification, you will be informed when details of your network will appear on the school business professional network directory.
In addition, you will be invited to join the network leaders’ group. This is a growing community of network leaders providing support to each other. As part of this group, you will receive notifications that are relevant to your role as a school business professional.
- Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL): register by contacting them at the ISBL website.
You must ensure that any commercial relationships that your network has – for example, sponsorship, speakers, and negotiated discounts with suppliers – are transparent to all members.
All purchasing decisions in schools must be made on merit and clearly adhere to local purchasing policies and regulations covering fair, open and transparent competition. Network members should not be under any obligation to purchase from specific suppliers.