SBM support networks: a collective answer to universal challenges

Neil Limbrick – developer at The Education Collective – discusses the importance of SBM support networks and the technology that is helping them to share information and collaborate locally as well as nationally

Neil Limbrick, The Education Collective

The formative years

The Education Collective was borne of a question from a line manager to an IT manager. “My line manager at my first school was one of the forming members of the Birmingham Association of School Business Managers (BASBM). She asked me – in that way that line managers do which leaves little room for saying no – if I could ‘just help out’,” Neil Limbrick, developer at The Education Collective, recalls.
“The association was struggling with communication; they would have really successful meetings every term – involving 80 or so business managers – but between those meeting it was difficult to communicate, difficult to manage and they struggled to keep their member list up-to-date,” Neil explains.
The solution? An online community with the management tools they needed as well as the communication tools for letting school business managers talk to each other, Neil says. “From there it exploded in Birmingham – membership increased two and three-fold, something previously impossible to achieve because of the scale of bringing so many people together and managing them.”

For users, it’s a secure forum in which they can hold professional discussions and ask for and give help

This set the precedent and The Education Collective has continued to grow and evolve in a natural way, developing to meet the needs of networks/groups and their members – providing local/regional groups with online platforms that help them to run more smoothly and more efficiently.

A community platform

Essentially, The Education Collective provides an online platform where members can come together outside of their termly meets, for example. Neil describes them as an ‘online community for members’ and, for the group administrators, it’s like a management information system. “It supports all the user information – the contact details, which schools they’re from – and it allows the individual users to update their own details. User details are updated organically by the members logging on and doing it themselves.”
Further, when it comes to organising a conference or a committee meeting, for example, the group administrator needs only input the date and the venue and members receive an alert asking them to login and RSVP – it streamlines that whole process in terms of running and managing the groups.
“For users it’s a secure forum in which they can hold professional discussions and ask for and give help. It makes contact more regular – not just once a term when they attend a meeting – they can login any time.”

The power of The Collective

In February this year The Education Collective passed the 6,000 users mark. The significance of this, Neil points out, is that although everyone’s in their own pocket – their own network – and all of the networks are part of a collective – The Education Collective. Neil and his team have constructed the platforms used by the regional groups/networks so that it’s possible to communicate between groups, sharing their experience and knowledge.

So, when you talk about 6,000 people, each of whom has been in the job on average five years – likely a conservative estimate – you’re talking about 30,000 years of experience cumulatively

“When you talk about 6,000 people, each of whom has been in the job on average five years – likely a conservative estimate – you’re talking about 30,000 years of experience cumulatively. Even if they’re not in a particular group, there’s a way of getting hold of the information you need. It allows everyone to come together and share their expertise and knowledge and that’s only going to increase,” Neil says.
“As a result of meetings between The Education Collective and SBMs we’ve started some collaborative procurement exercises. Initially piloted in Gloucester, those involved have made savings of £40,000 per year,” Neil says, adding that this has been supported by being in The Collective and having access to the knowledge that’s within it. The potential here must be considered, connecting schools beyond their geographical limits and enabling them to procure collectively, efficiently and economically.
So how does The Education Collective manage this? This depends on a given project and how the particular exercise will run but the intention is to have something in place that goes out to schools, gauges their interest, collects the necessary information and passes this to the individual running the procurement exercise – wherever they are. No traversing the country – the process can be managed through one unified system.

A support tool

“The important thing is to recognise is that The Collective is a tool – it supports the SBM networks/groups and that’s where the hard work is done,” says Neil. He recognises the effort that is put into bringing people together, organising conferences, etc. “It’s a thankless task running a local SBM network; you don’t get paid or get any time for it – it’s in addition to your day job and they do some amazing things,” he says.
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