Ask Anna – Is there a role for the SBM in a MAT?

The School Business Manager in a Multi-Academy Trust

Dear Anna, We have recently joined a MAT and they are deleting all the SBM posts as not necessary. Is there a role for the School Business Manager in a Multi-Academy Trust? Devastated SBM

This question has been hiding in my inbox for a month, but it made me think about the fact that the answer I might have given 6 months ago, will be different to the one I’m going to give today, and in 6 months time will probably be different again! Education is changing so quickly. I read at the weekend that we shouldn’t even be calling them MATs now!

Do we need an SBM in every school?

A few years ago, when my Trust first converted to a MAT, I went to a meeting that was chaired by a well- respected local SBM who had recently taken the role of HR Director in a large MAT in an adjacent county. His view seemed rather harsh. He believed the days of the SBM were numbered and that they would swiftly be evolving into another role, one that he liked to call the ‘Head’s PA’. Of course at that time, it also looked like every school was going to be forced into academies and MATs, so things haven’t moved as quickly as everyone thought they would.

If I were to take a completely objective, businesslike and unemotional view (which I know is controversial), I would have to wonder, in a MAT that has central finance, premises and personnel functions, what is the point of the SBM in each school? The SBM is expensive and there may be little in the way of management and leadership for them to do in a school that is part of a MAT? It is easy to see why MATs are losing them along the way.

It’s all about compliancy

On the other hand, when a school becomes an Academy, let alone joining  MAT, the biggest role that changes is that of the SBM. Suddenly your every move is monitored. You can’t sneeze without checking compliancy, reporting requirement, risk management, authorisation protocols and duty separation. You have to be able to evidence absolutely everything and there are no excuses and no places to hide. It’s not surprising that it is often too much for the established SBM and the MAT doesn’t have to do any restructuring to find themselves with a new model opportunity. Don’t forget that as well as SBMs being expensive, they are also quite difficult to replace!

So if the SBM leaves, who wouldn’t think about whether they really need to replace, or whether the Head actually just needs a right hand person (aka PA)?

So, while I don’t believe that the role of an SBM in a MAT is obsolete, I do understand what is driving the change.

What should we do?

You are a resilient, skilled and experienced SBM, so do not jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Instead take a deep breath and do the following;

  1. Demand some training in how your role fits into the MAT. This will probably involve a bit of work-shadowing with the central team. Don’t see them as an adversary. Learn from them. Collaborate with them. Share. Show them the value you bring to your school by demonstrating your desire to make the school’s conversion to an Academy and into a MAT a smooth success.
  2. Read the Academies Financial Handbook. Then read it again. Then read the new Trust Finance Policies (yes all of them!) and follow them closely. Understand that your role has changed out of all recognition. Open your office window wide and throw out everything you ever knew. Do not give the MAT the opportunity to say you’re not up to the (new) job.
  3. Do not (and I mean EVER) cut corners. If that order is worth £1,000.01p – get three quotes. When you need Trustee approval – seek it. If you have concerns about asbestos – say so. If you have a member of staff who is unhappy – ask advice on the best way to handle it. The thing a MAT wants more than anything is to know what is going on. Do not try to keep issues to yourself, even if you have always dealt with them before.
  4.  Be accommodating and, particularly to start with, treat these new roles in the central teams as you would your line manager. You need their trust in you and that is going to take a bit of time. Build it by showing your trust in them.
  5. Understand that it is unlikely that you are going to be able to stand still in what was your old role, but if you demonstrate an alignment of vision with the new Trust, there will be a role in the MAT for you going forward. It might not be as an SBM but that is where the opportunities in a MAT are exciting. Who knows where it might take you?
It’s not going to be easy

Having said all of that, I appreciate that it is not going to be easy. You will feel bereaved for a while and miss your old job where, lets face it, you were in charge. But things will get better, you will learn new skills, you can grow in ways you would never have imagined possible, and you can continue to be part of the success of your school and impact on your pupils.

Is there a role for the School Business Manager in a Multi-Academy Trust? Yes I think so but it seems inevitable that you won’t find them everywhere.

Keep talking and stay positive.

You’ve got this.


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