Ask Anna – Which would be the best school phase for me?

Which phase?

Dear Anna, I want to be a School Business Manager. Which would be the best school phase for me to apply for; Secondary, Primary or Special School roles? Adam, Stockport

Dear Adam,

A lot of the answer to this is centred on “it depends”.

  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Do you have any specific skills or experience relevant to one of the phases?
  • Which of the phases interests you the most?
  • Do you want to work full time, all year round?
  • What are your pay expectations?

Every school will be looking for something slightly different from their SBM so it is worth identifying what you want from the role and what you can give to it. Then match those to the vacancies. For example, it is not worth applying for part time roles if you need to work full time. Similarly if the role is heavy on Premises and you want to do Finance.

So, lets go

So, let’s accept your relevant transferable qualifications from your previous career pathway and assume that you have researched the application process to become a School Business Manager. You need to have it clear in your own mind why you are applying for a particular role and be able to communicate that to the interview panel.

Do the background

As a candidate coming from the private sector, you must be able to explain to the panel why you have applied to their school or Trust. Remember this is a senior and important appointment for the organisation. Do not make the mistake of looking at the pay grade and comparing it to your previous experience of role levels. This is the public sector. Also, don’t assume that there are more career progression opportunities in one phase over the other. Your career is going to be what you make it and you’ll get out what you put in.

Be honest about your reasons for wanting to move into education operations. The panel will know that the role is challenging and they are unlikely to appoint someone just looking for a job close to home, or because their children attend the school.

You will need to have done some research into current education funding and also the implications of working with young people – you will be asked questions on both of these topics.

Understand the phase you have applied for

Essentially, the role of SBM is the same whether you are in Secondary, Primary or Special. It is the context that is different. In very general terms, the Secondary SBM is usually more detached from students, has more people management responsibilities and has a bigger premises remit than a Primary SBM. The Primary SBM can often have more variety of demands on them and interaction with children and parents due to being “front of house” for the community. A Special SBM has additional responsibilities again, as well as knowledge requirements due to the needs of the students.

Put simply, a bigger organisation has a bigger budget, equating to more staff and bigger premises but the issues, policies, pressures, compliances and statutory returns are mostly the same.

Once you have experience and specific qualifications as an SBM, you can move between phases. Also, if your school is part of a Trust there may be opportunities to change phase with the same employer.

Other considerations

Lastly, it is important when you are applying for roles to find opportunity to ascertain your fit into the organisation and whether your own aspirations will be met. During the application process ask yourself the following questions;

  • How outward facing is this school? Is it part of a bigger organisation or collaborative structure? Does it genuinely support other schools and is it looking to grow this function?
  • What is the atmosphere like in the school? Is it a happy, friendly place? Do you feel energised when you walk through the front door?
  • How will you get on with the other senior staff and governors? Are they excited by a new SBM appointment? Are they looking forward to working with a new member of their team? Does the senior team feel like a team? Is the Head looking to move on or retire?
  • Is there an active local SBM network? Will you be given the time to access it?
  • Will there be opportunities for qualifications and professional development? Is there opportunity for progression?
Everyone has a different path

When I applied for a role as a School Business Manager, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I wasn’t really expecting to stay long. Seventeen years later and I’m still doing it! Choose your first post carefully and you will never look back.

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