Podcast highlights: raising the profile of the profession

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Leyla Tovey, one of the creators of National School Business Leaders Day, joins Laura for a chat to talk about raising more awareness about the role of the school business leader and shedding light on what the role really entails

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On today’s episode I’m joined by Leyla Tovey. Leyla is head of marketing & professional services at School Business Services. She’s been with SBS for nearly six years, starting as an assistant management information systems manager, before moving into her current role. In total, Leyla has worked in education for over 20 years, primarily in finance and MIR services, with only a brief stint as a PA breaking her streak before her love of education called her back. She likes to think of the marketing elements of her job as a sweetie jar filled with variety and things to enjoy.

As school business leaders, we are very much about the power of the collective. It’s such a lonely role that when we’re together it’s such a nice vibe and it’s a very lovely community to be a part of. School business managers don’t get chance to celebrate their successes the way that maybe other people do, and I wrote something recently for EdExec about this. Lewis Hamilton, won the Formula 1 World Championship last year and the commentator said, ‘Do you know, he’s won seven World Championships, but this is only the fourth he’s actually celebrated on the podium? The rest of them have been behind closed doors because he just had enough points.’ And I think sometimes it’s like that for school business managers, isn’t it? The crises that they avert, the issues that they solve –  they are unsung heroes, and nobody will ever really know what they’ve done, but they’ve done some amazing things.

I know! Quite recently Gavin Williamson gave a speech at the NASUWT Conference. Now I know of course it needed to be relevant to that particular audience, but he gave praise to everyone for how they’d coped through COVID and he made specific reference to the testing, for example. He then went on later to call out thank some people other than teachers, but he still didn’t mention anything to do with school business leaders, or even a variant of their title. I think it must at times feel very thankless in that role, and that’s why we want to support them. We can empathise to a degree; I know I’ve done some stints as a Bursar but I can’t really empathise with what they’ve been up against over the last 12 months. So that is the underpinning principle behind National SBL Day.

I think there’s a hashtag isn’t there, ‘not just teachers, work in schools’. I’ve seen that quite a bit on Twitter. And absolutely, so many things that have happened over these last 12 months have been because business managers have used their resources, their skill-sets, their networks to get things done in such adversity, in the strangest and most complex of circumstances and challenges. Not to mention all the things that are going on in their personal lives. So, the fact that they are still not recognised on a national level frustrates me enormously. So, seeing something like this happening, National School Business Leaders Day, it’s amazing.

I share your frustrations, and the other brilliant thing is we’ve been having conversations with lots of different organisations to see if they’ll take part, join in the promotion for us and just spread the word. And the conversations that you have with people, everyone else shares the same view, so it’s not as if there’s a silent majority somewhere that doesn’t agree. The more of us that shout louder about it, surely the better.

It was Earth Day recently and I was thinking about #earthday trending, and I wondered how it had started – Earth Day. I had a look and it goes way back to 1970 and the whole premise was to build awareness of the global issues we were facing. Actually if you think about it, it started in 1970, a long time ago, but also it shows how they were concerned even then that something needed to happen. I just think that there’s no harm in us all trying something maybe a little bit different, coming together, sharing a voice, raising the profile. That’s really what we’re trying to achieve.

Absolutely. As you know, this podcast is geared around the same thing, raising the profile of the profession – National School Business Leaders Day, this podcast plus lots of other events that people are running, and the more that people get together as a collective, the voice is louder. So yeah, let’s get together and shout loud because someone will be listening somewhere. We will make them listen!

Exactly. I think the other thing that is still a bit of an issue, and I don’t know how this is felt by school business leaders themselves, but regardless of National School Business Leaders Day, when I often talk in my personal life to friends or acquaintances about what I do; if I mention that I’m going out to visit a school business leader, they look a bit confused. People don’t even really know quite what that job is, and they definitely don’t appreciate the responsibility that it carries. I’m so reluctant to say this, but I think sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, is that the person in the office?’ Yes, but you have no idea what they are responsible for! I think, ‘Why is this not a thing? Why don’t we all know what school business leaders are?’ Their job is so important and carries so much responsibility, there’s definitely still work to be done, but the more of us behind it then surely the better.

Yes, and like you say it’s raising awareness for people outside of the profession as to what this role is, but also for the future of the profession, bringing people into it and wanting to be school business leaders.

Definitely, like you’re saying, it should be an aspirational role for sure. Yes, it carries great responsibility, but it also carries great reward doesn’t it, when you’re seeing this direct impact of what you’re doing every day, and schools are fantastic environments to work in. Yes, there’s multiple challenges all the time, but fundamentally they are places of learning and places of joy, so it should be aspirational for people to want to work in that role.

Every school business leader I know says that they work in schools because they want to make a difference. Yes, they want fair pay for the job that they’re doing, they want to be recognised for the value that they add of course, but I think every school business leader could probably go and get a job in the private sector and earn a lot more money. They do it because they have a calling, they want to make a difference. Like you say, schools are places of joy, we enjoy seeing the students develop, happy working environments, it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. So, let’s get more people into the profession.

The thing is as well, maybe some people come into that profession and they don’t realise quite how impactful it is, and for many people, I personally know people, it’s been the beginning of their career. Maybe they originally came into that job not understanding the scope and then it’s a catapult to success. Throughout the profession there are so many positive stories of people going above and beyond. When you’re mixing in that sector there are people who are really revered for their knowledge and their continued learning.

There’s so much positivity around the whole profession, and that is really borne out by the way they support each other, and shout-out to each other. This is the kudos thing as well, there’s a lot of mutual respect in the profession. I think I said to you when we spoke before, obviously I am in this sector so of course I’m exposed to all the people operating and working in this sector, but I wonder how many other sectors are like this, with this mutual support and recognition, because I think it’s very, very strong for school business leaders.

It’s a unique community. Everyone I come across is always supportive and grateful that they they found the community, ‘I can’t believe all of you are here. I didn’t know!’ You’ve got your head down doing your job every day and it’s such a lonely role, so to suddenly come across this network feels like, wow! I think anyone who is listening and thinking of becoming a school business manager, we are nice people come and find us!

It’s like having a readymade set of mentors. I think the different social platforms as well – I know they’re not the only thing – but, they do give the opportunity for people to just raise a question, ask for support, ask if somebody else has got the knowledge. I watch that unfolding all the time like you do, and it’s such a positive environment to be in. Even when it’s sharing the stuff that’s not positive, it still has a positive effect if you know you’ve got support out there.

And I think we’re also good at having fun aren’t we? As much as we talk about work, we also share lots of camaraderie around things that aren’t work related, which is fun too!

It is, and we’ve missed that. Myself and Becky and other people I work with, and loads of other people across the sector, have not been able to go to any events to actually see people and connect in real life and say, ‘How are you, how’s it going?’ You can sort of stay in touch but there’s no substitute for that face-to-face, and so I think there is an element if I’m honest, that we were missing that as well. So that’s why we really wanted this event to be so feel good, and to have that sense that you do get when you go to an event, where you come away and thing, ‘That was really good, I feel really uplifted’.

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