Smarter procurement part 2: a new kind of business leader – building the skills

What are the pinch points faced by SBMs when it comes to procurement? How are schools and academies overcoming these to deliver better outcomes for students? In partnership with GLS Educational Supplies, we undertook in-depth research, which included a reader survey, to find out.

In part one, we explored some of the key findings of the report. In this, part two, we consider the impact on the SBM role and focus on professional development

In his paper Behavioural procurement David Loseby concludes that buyers need to understand that ‘behaviours play a big part in decision-making, irrational decisions have an explanation and that behaviours are the enabler of better outcomes’. Tradition can hamper progress and, in some instances, SBMs still contend with a reluctance in the sector to adopt a more business-like approach to managing schools; this is often paired with a lack of understanding of the work they do. However, attitudes are changing with the professionalisation of the role and we are seeing SBMs assuming greater accountability and subject to greater expectations.

Often schools lack the sufficient number of highly-qualified and experienced procurement professionals required to develop an effective procurement process and then to implement it effectively. Professional development is an essential step towards strengthening the procurement knowledge and expertise of current staff. Improving procurement practice not only ensures compliance, it saves money and, by streamlining the process, shortens the procurement-cycle.

Proactive engagement

To build up these skills requires proactive engagement in continuing professional development (CPD). CPD has a real and positive impact on school staff and the organisations they work in – improving business decision-making, as well as standards and outcomes for students. A 2018 survey conducted by the Outstanding Leaders Partnership (OLP) found that 80% of respondents (school leaders) planned to maintain or increase levels of CPD investment in their staff, while 94% said they would benefit from additional support and professional development – despite budget and time pressures.

We found that 32% of SBMs felt there were good levels of CPD and training readily available to them and 55% said they were available if pursued. However, 13% said this resource was not readily available to them. The OLP’s report suggests that this is, in part at least, down to time and budget constraints.

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Digging deeper we sought to identify where SBMs are turning to further their learning, 77% of survey respondents said training courses, 69% events and 98% look to their peers. Regional (53%) and national (31%) groups are also a source of support, with a significant number taking their learning online.

Focused professional development

Given the breadth of the role, how can SBMs focus their CPD so it’s most relevant to their needs and those of their schools? There are the traditional ILM accredited programmes known as Level 4 and 5 Diplomas in School Business Management, and there is also a more modular option through which those with specialisms can broaden their skills and expertise.

ISBL’s ‘Professional Standards’ provide a comprehensive blueprint for effective school and academy business leaders, and is a great starting point when looking at areas to skill-up in. In partnership with Best Practice Network, ISBL has also developed a self-assessment toolkit, which is a useful way of identifying areas for development and the best CPD routes to pursue them.

There are also good online CPD solutions – for example, the DfE’s ‘Buying for schools’ resource. It’s worth noting that there has been an explosion of organisations ready and willing to share their knowledge outside of their paid services via online platforms, white papers, blogs and vlogs, social media and even face-to-face conversations. SBMs are a resourceful group, adept at finding sources of knowledge and information.

Smarter procurement; a practical guide to improving value efficiency looks in more detail at these key findings and makes some key recommendations for schools seeking to implement smarter procurement processes.

You can read the full report here.

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