What does a School Business Manager do?

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It seems like a simple question. What does a School Business Manager do? Even after 17 years in the job, I’ve had to think about it to be able to commit coherent words to screen. Every role is different. It depends on the school setting, the phase, the structure, the funding stream, other roles in the organisation and also the SBMs own skills and interests. So, I have narrowed it down as far as I can but probably, in doing so, left a lot out! What does a School Business Manager do?

Main Responsibilities
  1. Leadership of the operations of teaching and learning in a School
  2. Leadership of the Support (or Non-Teaching) Staff in a School
  3. Support of other senior roles in a School
  4. Finance – Budget setting and monitoring
  5. Personnel, Payroll and HR – usually working with external provider
  6. Procurement – Ensuring best value and appropriate targeting of funds
  7. Premises – Maintenance and development
  8. Health, Safety and Well-being – Risk assessment and compliance
  9. Communication – Ensuring effective communication with stakeholders and community
  10. Professional Development and Networking
  11. Advocacy
Leadership of the operations of teaching and learning

This is the most important function of them all. The young people, their safety and well-being, their happiness and their readiness to learn are all paramount to the role of School Business Manager. But while you are buried in worry about affording the curriculum, risk assessing a school trip or repairing a leaking roof, it is easy to forget who you are doing it all for. Don’t. Spend a part of every day reminding yourself by going out into your school and watching the learning. (back)

Leadership of the Support (or Non-Teaching) Staff

The number of support staff can equal (and often exceed) the number of teaching staff in a school. Support staff come with a wide range of skills, hours, needs and aspirations. It’s the job of the School Business Manager to ensure they all share the School’s vision and it is important that they feel included, motivated and valued. I’ll be honest, this is not an easy part of the role. It is unlikely that they are ever going to all be happy at the same time. I find the best way is to focus on the laughter. A team that you hear laughing are essentially a happy team (no matter what they tell you otherwise). Keep a focus on leading them as a whole and vital team. (back)

Support of other senior roles in a School

The School Business Manager is in place to support the other senior roles in the School and removes the operational burden away from Headteachers. This means that the SBM is required to know more about school operations, than any other role in the school. It is also one of the reasons why it is so important that the SBM sits on the Senior Leadership Team.

There is no doubt that the Headteacher/SBM relationship is key to a successful school. Building this relationship takes time and trust but a highly effective senior team makes for a successful school. (back)

Finance – Budget setting and monitoring

Many School Business Managers see finance as their main function and can get bogged down in the detail, the funding (or lack of), and watching every single penny. However, it is not solely their responsibility. The SBM should always ensure that other senior staff, governors and trustees are involved. My advice would be to maintain an eye on the big picture, never ever veer away from policy compliance and always keep the Headteacher fully informed. We use an audit mantra in my office “Trust is not a control”. In other words, get the right authorisations, separate duties and keep a record of everything! (back)

Personnel, Payroll and HR – usually working with external provider

Unless the School Business Manager is specifically qualified in this area, this function will be supported by an external payroll and HR provider. The SBM still needs to ensure that everyone is being paid correctly every month and PAYE is allocated correctly. Following all the School HR and Pay policies to the letter can assist the SBM in this area. Discretionary changes should be left with the Headteacher. Due to the sensitivities involved it often falls to the SBM to administer any HR procedures that take place. (back)

Procurement – Ensuring best value and appropriate targeting of funds

The School Business Manager is responsible for the procurement process at all levels. From classroom crayons to the school minibus. From a capital build project to massive energy contracts. The SBM will research, compare and identify the right product or service, then advise the appropriate authorisation channel. The SBM will always follow school procurement policy, authorisation protocols and the Nolan Principles. (back)

Premises – Maintenance and development

Maintaining school premises is a major challenge for the School Business Manager at a time when funding is tight. The SBM will find support with local contractors, build partners and development bidders. They must also ensure that there is an element for service and upkeep worked into the annual budget. The School Caretaker is another key relationship for the SBM. Working together they ensure security, health and safety compliance as well as buildings that are fit for the purpose of learning, now and into the future. (back)

Health, Safety and Well-being – Risk assessment and compliance

Health, Safety and Well-being is a constant consideration for the School Business Manager. Risk assessment, compliance with regulations and working to maintain the safety and well-being of everyone in the School is a key task. Many SBMs contract external support and software platforms to assist with the administrative side of this function. SBMs can run committees to achieve buy-in for well-being initiatives and the requirements that health and safety can place on school activities. Don’t let the requirements of “health and safety” put you off your aspiration to be an SBM. My advice would be to get some formal training in this area on appointment. (back)

Communication – Ensuring effective communication with stakeholders and community

Effective communication is vital for a school and it must ensure that the information it delivers is accessible for all. The school website, prospectus, newsletters, reporting and general communication can all come under the remit of the SBM. Different schools will use different techniques and platforms but the SBM should ensure that any message is consistent with the school vision and ethos. (back)

Professional Development and Networking

The School Business Manager must remember that they are responsible for their own professional development. They owe it to themselves and their school to maintain it to ensure success and growth in their role. Develop your own training plan so that you can take it step by step over time.

In addition, the SBM cannot function effectively as an island and they should use as many tools as possible to ensure they are updated with current best practice. Local and regional networks, our professional body, the Institute of School Business Leaders and SBLTwitter can all support this very challenging role with training, best practice ideas and friendship. (back)

Advocacy

Alongside traits of resilience, empathy and tenacity, the School Business Manager needs courage. Courage to stand up as advocates for their ideas, their budget and the delivery of education in their community. Courage to develop their own role, support other SBMs and affect positive change in the lives of children and young people. (back)

The School Business Manager Role

Read some of the other blogs on this website for more information on how it feels to be a School Business Manager. Posts such as ‘Starting as an SBM‘ or the SBL Podcasts will give you a start. Your local school may also be able to give you more advice if you are hoping to secure a SBM post in your area.

The role of the School Business Manager operationally supports the teaching and learning in a school. It is challenging, pressurised and carries a burden of responsibility unlike anything else… At the same time it is varied, interesting, purposeful and rewarding…unlike anything else.

with thanks to @ASBOUSA

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