“It’s the experience that counts”

Do you remember the advert that was used to encourage us to go along to our local cinema, enjoy the concessions (I’m particularly weak around a sour cherry that has been hanging around in a plastic box for a few weeks) and experience the massive screen with surround sound?

I do.

I can still hear the beautiful Scottish accent of Dougray Scott (or maybe it was Ewan McGregor?) and we would often quote it in my family to relate to anything that was worth doing properly.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reminded of it again during discussions with other SBMs on how much of their time at work is spent on doing the lovely children stuff. I was beginning to be swayed that my role is, actually, “all about the children” and that I should endeavour to spend more time with them. Then today, thanks to the @midlandssbm blog about opening a discussion on a national talent management strategy (which you can read here), it hit me like a brick…

Let me explain.

Until just recently I was a secondary SBM who had never really been involved in a great deal of interaction with students. I took a duty day as did my SLT colleagues, I occasionally met with student voice groups, sat in the dining hall to eat my lunch, or took on an emergency cover lesson, but that was pretty much it. I couldn’t really see the “it’s all about the children” viewpoint of other SBMs. It made me feel a bit hard-nosed. What was I missing? Was I in the right job?

Then, two years ago, I took on the role of Finance Director in a MAT that includes primary schools. I could suddenly see the attraction. Those little faces, small uniforms, eager-to-please smiles and exuberant playtime was a very different atmosphere from the surly (though always polite) teenagers, untucked shirts and boundary pushing mentality that I had become used to. I realised I wasn’t hard-nosed, I was just coming at my role from a different experience base.

You see, my students don’t need me to share my lunchtime with them, they aren’t interested in gaining my approval and they would rather I didn’t try to engage them in conversation. My students need me to get on and do as efficient and effective a job as I possibly can to ensure they have the best, safest and well resourced experience at school.

It’s not my intention to make sweeping generic statements suggesting the difference is solely between the secondary and primary SBM because that is genuinely not my experience from talking to colleagues. The primary academy SBM has exactly the same role delivery responsibilities as me but, it this has to be said, they have often come into the profession for different reasons and as there are a lot more of them they naturally have a louder voice on the nature of the role.

Recently, an accountant friend in his thirties found himself out of work and I asked if he had considered school business management? He looked at me as if I was mad. Firstly, he assumed the remuneration would be rubbish; secondly, he could see no onward career pathway and thirdly, he didn’t fancy plastering all those grazed knees.

I put him right, of course, but it made me realise that the roles of the SBM, SBL and SBP are now at a point where they need more explicit identification.

There is nothing wrong with me and my love of the “business,” the policy making, the leadership and the lack of interaction with students. In the same way there is nothing wrong with a colleague who loves going into the classroom, lunching with pupils and being part of the children facing team. But we have got to start accepting and promoting the fact that they are different roles if we want to attract the likes of my accountant friend, young business graduates, and so increase the talent pool.

It’s not that I think one role is better than the other, or worth more pay, or more important…just that they are different. Our own interests, the phase, situation, extent of centralisation and even attitude of others on the SLT, makes all our job specifications different and I think we risk an inability to attract young talent into our profession until we can demonstrate that the role doesn’t have to be “all about the children” but can be all about our own career pathway, as well as the finance, hr, procurement, leadership, estates and resources.

Let’s have that discussion, hard and divisive though we might find it to be, because we all, without exception, want growth, respect and ongoing talent for this wonderful role we have.

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