Let’s be honest, most school business professionals (SBPs) have had the questions: why are you on the senior leadership team (SLT)? Why aren’t you on the senior leadership team? Why do support staff on the senior leadership team get paid less than assistant headteachers?
We all know that headteachers can’t do it all. And to have a fully integrated approach to leadership, they have to share responsibilities with other leaders. This means that there should be a school business manager at every school.
This was recognised by the Department for Education in 2018, in its statement that “all schools should have access to a capable school business professional – some smaller standalone schools may not have their own dedicated SBP”.
However, we all know that, without the word MUST in the statement, it’s difficult for us working in the role to make the argument.
So where do you start to try to achieve a joined-up approach to leadership at your school? Here are my three top tips.
Why should an SBP be a member of the senior leadership team?
Use documentation to support your discussions with the headteacher and governors about your role. The Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) has published a great guidance document for them, and you can also use the Academies Financial Handbook and the Governors Handbook. These will help them to understand how the role of SBP is vital to joined-up leadership in a school and will also help them ensure that they use it to its full potential.
Use the presentations that Entrust and the Department for Education have made available and the wording in them. Most importantly, you need to speak out, be confident in your skills, knowledge and behaviour. My question to your governors and head would be: “Why isn’t the SBP on the senior leadership team? What is the school’s reasoning behind this?”
There’s immense pressure on schools to manage in-year balanced budgets and be effective in their resource management, including how they deploy staff members. Who holds most of this information? What good is knowing this and not actively being involved in strategic planning meetings? If your school decided to use a school resource management self-assessment tool, this would be one of the first questions asked.
Why should you attend every meeting?
Your governors and headteacher may not consider that every discussion by the SLT is relevant to your role but, to be a full member of a team, you should at least be invited to attend. How on earth can you think strategically; plan resources; deploy staff effectively and efficiently; manage premises, health and safety, marketing and infrastructure (including IT) if you’re not involved in key discussions about curriculum development, pupil recruitment, financial planning? How on earth can ICFP and SFVS or SRMSAT be carried out without a joined-up leadership approach?
What will you bring to the party?
You may not think this is relevant but let’s consider it and make it part of the discussion about joined-up leadership.
Think about the role. If you don’t currently have SBP or similar as your job title, I bet you’re still carrying out a fair amount of its tasks and responsibilities: finance management (including budget setting/forecasting), procurement, marketing, IT, health and safety. You’ll be leading support services such as cleaning, catering, administration, premises. I’m sure you’re the one who’s processing contracts, SCR, interview procedures, managing HR tasks such as absence management.
So now let’s answer the question – what will you bring to the party? It’s difficult to know where to start but think about it strategically, without emotion. Think calmly about what can you bring to the SLT and governors in a joined-up leadership approach to school. You’re agile, emotionally intelligent, professional, resourceful; you’re a leader accustomed to being resourceful and decisive – now you have your answer.
So, to summarise, communication is the key to this. Speak out to the governors and leaders of your school. If you need support, seek it from your local forum. You don’t need the title of SBP to join, and there’s nothing more empowering than peer-to-peer support. There may be some members who have some tips about what has worked in their discussions about developing their role. You can also get support from the ISBL, which is the only professional body to support school business leaders.
Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone. Speak out, contact your peers and they will be there for you every step of the way. The majority of us have been there and got the T-shirt along the way.