SBL’s here, there and everywhere

No two days as an SBL are the same, but how much do they differ around the country? We spoke to three SBLs from different locations about their roles

Tell us a bit about your school? Size? Type? Rural, urban or other? County?

@Hoveroseros: I am a school business manager in a two form entry school with approx. 300 children which also has a preschool and nursery.

@stephaniesbm: I am school business manager at Broadwater School in Godalming, Surrey. Broadwater is a small high school with a big vision; they’re on an upward trajectory and this year achieved the best GCSE results in the school’s history. Broadwater is a Philosophy for Children Lead School with GOLD status, encouraging children to think critically, creatively, collaboratively and caringly. The Broadwater School motto is really wonderful and very apt for school business managers, ‘By Increments Conquer’. Every day try to go home and focus on those small steps, or big steps, that you’ve taken that day. Celebrate everything you achieve. Then start again tomorrow.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

@Hoveroseros: The vast scope of the role, and the never ending to do list, are the biggest challenges. I used to think I was busy in past roles but those were nothing compared to the SBM role. The responsibility that sits on your shoulders can be overwhelming at times if you think about it too much. It’s very easy to feel like a jack of all trades, master or none, and that you are failing to get anything done despite being busy constantly.

@accidentalSBM: Time. There is never enough of it and always more and more things to do. The minute you get on top of something, something else (usually bigger) takes its place.

@stephaniesbm: As an interim business manager, my biggest challenge is the reality that I won’t be here this time next year.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

@Hoveroseros: Working with the children is, undoubtedly, the best part of the role; it’s wonderful to see them grow and develop and to be there for them in their best (and, sadly, some of their worst) moments. You get to play a huge role in their lives; I don’t think people realise how invested you become in the children in your school. A recent highlight was the door that is used to let the children in for lunch had jammed during lunch break. I struggled to get it open but, when I finally burst through into the yard, there was quite a crowd watching and the children all cheered. One of them spotted my Wonder Woman lanyard and shouted, “You are actually Wonder Woman!” It made my day.

@accidentalSBM: Getting stuff done and making a difference. If I can, hand on heart, say that everything is running so smoothly, and that teachers can focus on teaching, then that’s my job done!

@stephaniesbm: Getting to the end of projects which have been pending for some time, hoping to make a difference to those who learn and work in the school.

What do you wish you had known about the role before you became an SBL?

@Hoveroseros: I knew it would be a steep learning curve, but I could never have imagined just how steep it would be. Three years in and I still feel like a total beginner. There is just so much you need to know about, and so much variation in the things you are responsible for, it can be overwhelming. I also didn’t know that I would love it so much; it’s never boring.

@accidentalSBM: That you will never get it all done. Your head will often feel like it is going to explode. You will get greater job satisfaction than you have ever known, and you will change the lives of children going through your school. And yes – you do like children. They make you laugh.

@stephaniesbm: I wish I had known how different things can be with the change of headteacher, or moving from one school or one LA to another. Sometimes the culture shock really is huge!

What is the best bit of advice you’d give to another SBL?

@Hoveroseros: Network and get to know others – it can be a particularly lonely role, being the only person in a school in your role, but the support of other SBMs, locally and nationally, is invaluable for your wellbeing. It’s through meet ups, training sessions and networking events that you get to realise everyone is in the same position, no matter where they are located. We all experience the same challenges, problems, highs and lows. I have recently met up with another local SBM through the twitter #SBMconnect account which was set up to allow SBMs to meet up with others they didn’t know and offer mentoring support. I am also planning a trip to York in November to meet up with other twitter SBMs based further afield for a get together.

@accidentalSBM: Don’t panic! Breathe and break it down. ‘Rome was not built in a day’.

@stephaniesbm: I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to let colleagues or line managers know that the workload is too much, or that expectations are unrealistic, and get to know other business managers. I could not have done my job, particularly in my last school, without the support and advice of colleagues in other schools.

How do you ensure you have a good work/life balance?

@Hoveroseros: I am not entirely sure that I do; it is tricky. Any extra hours that I work I can take back as time owed during the holidays, as I have an all year round contract, but you end up in the vicious circle of too many hours to take back and not enough holiday periods to take them in. Or you take the time back but have to work extra hours to get through the work that accrued while you weren’t there, so it is hard to manage. It is especially difficult when you are the only person in school that is responsible for your work, and most of your deadlines are non-negotiable – the work must be done and there is only you to do it.

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@accidentalSBM: I don’t. I am useless at it.

@stephaniesbm: I go home early on a Friday and I have Saturday completely clear from work. I return to work on a Sunday afternoon to get ready for the week ahead. But Saturdays are my sacred days. I spend time with friends or my dad, I love my garden, I read, I plan travelling and adventures.

How would you describe your role to someone who didn’t know what an SBL does?

@Hoveroseros: Like herding cats, while spinning plates, and balancing on a high wire.

@accidentalSBM: Anything in a school that isn’t teaching (but sometimes that too) – finance, ordering, IT, personnel, legal, health and safety, communications, policies.

@stephaniesbm: I usually say it’s the equivalent of an operations manager in a company.

How long have you been an SBL?

@Hoveroseros: Since April 2017.

@accidentalSBM: Over 10 years.

@stephaniesbm: I’ve worked in four schools over 21 years, mainly my last school where I worked for 11 years. I have worked with seven headteachers and eleven chairs of governors.

What part of the role excites you the most?

@accidentalSBM: That’s like picking your favourite child! It varies, if I am honest. Sometimes I love drilling down into the finance and getting it ordered- the planning of it. Or it could be getting health and safety right – knowing, to the best of my ability, everyone is safe. I think I really love building projects and improving facilities best though – when it all comes together, and people walk in and go ‘Wow!’

@stephaniesbm: As much as I might have a moan about it, I do love inheriting a bit of a mess and sorting it all out, setting up systems that work. It’s hard work, and you do need fabulous colleagues around you, but it’s so rewarding to get there and know it’s making a difference.

Would you consider a career change now and why?

@accidentalSBM: Never say never. I am not looking now, but the sector is changing fast. I do worry when I hear of trusts removing the SBM role for monetary reasons. It seems short-sighted, and you lose insight and the ability to make quick change and have impact. A good SBM is worth their weight in gold, in my opinion.

@stephaniesbm: I’m working towards a more freelance life. I’m going to be working from my laptop wherever I am in the world, on a variety of projects. I’m really excited about it!

If there was one thing you could change about the role, what would it be?

@Hoveroseros: The one thing I would change is the lack of understanding of the role and that it isn’t given the same professional respect that other roles in school are. The pay scales for SBMs is low considering the overall responsibility they have within a school. I am educated to degree level and have undertaken postgraduate CPD and qualifications to gain the role I have, just like the teaching staff. There has been discussion recently about the starting salaries for newly qualified teachers being increased in the future, which would see them paid the same or more than a lot of SBMs – who are usually members of SMT/SLT, but paid on admin salary scales. One of my bugbears is hearing people use the term ‘non-teaching staff’, or ‘all staff’ when that doesn’t include the admin staff/site staff. I am not in any way disparaging teachers, or the job they do, as they are tremendous and work so hard in difficult conditions but, without the admin and site teams, there would be no pupils in the school, no heating or electricity, and no-one would be paid. They are the foundation of the education system which keep everything ticking over – but are paid wages that are a fraction of similar roles in other industries, I don’t feel they are valued as they should be.

@accidentalSBM: I would love it if it had real recognition and understanding amongst the rest of the school staff. It is almost like the better the SBM, the more invisible the role – until something goes wrong; then all hell breaks loose!

@stephaniesbm: Having moved from one LA to another recently, I’d streamline things so that it’s not so radically different, for example budgeting, period end and payroll processing and so forth. I felt like an absolute beginner in relation to some fundamental aspects of the job and it was such a shock! I assumed all LAs worked the same way – I couldn’t have been more wrong!

What would you say might be different about your role compared to other SBLs around the country?

@Hoveroseros: I am astounded how similar our roles are – in the conversations that go on across twitter, and in local groups, the stories we share are just so similar time and again.

@accidentalSBM: My school is massive, and I have a phenomenal team who help me. There are so many SBMs working in small, rural schools who have no-one and are doing it all themselves. It can be a lonely job, and the pressures can be really high. I think, as a breed, SBMs take on everyone else’s problems and take responsibility for them. We need to make sure we share the problems and don’t isolate ourselves.

@stephaniesbm: Mine role is interim, and it feels very different for that reason. Other than that, I think, at Broadwater, it’s different because we have the most amazing sporting facilities and programme of lettings that I’ve ever been involved with. Working with sports clubs, and line managing a sports centre manager, has been really lovely and very interesting for me. I’ve learnt so much.

What do you like to do to unwind?

@accidentalSBM: I try to exercise. I crochet badly. I do gardening. I cook. Mostly I like to be outside.

@stephaniesbm: I enjoy eating delicious vegan food, spending time with my friends and my dad. I have a house in Spain, which I go to as much as I can, and I enjoy watching a bit of Netflix or going to the cinema.

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