Supporting the Support Staff

In a guest blog Auntie Social (@auntiesocial73) reminds us that at this time of year we all need time to ease back into our roles and asks – Who is supporting the Support Staff?

Supporting the Support Staff

I’ve been working in schools for 15 years this year, having previously spent a few years in the television industry.   Wanting to start a family and being disenfranchised with the media world, I decided to look for management level jobs in local schools. I thought “that’d be a nice easy job, working in a school office”.  Little did I know when I started my first job at an all-boys school in East London as Office Manager just how easy it would not be!

I nearly quit

I nearly quit after the first term. My old boss at the BBC offered me my job back, but the Headteacher talked me into staying. He changed my job description as I pointed out it was impossible for me to take responsibility for everything they wanted me to do.  This is common in so many schools. Support staff stretched beyond their time and means, because there just simply isn’t anyone else to do some of the work. It has become worse in recent years with budget cuts and redundancies. 

It just needs doing…

I don’t think there is a day that goes by without me hearing support staff commenting that they are doing way above and beyond their job remit.  Having just connected with a lot of SBM’s on Twitter my eyes have also been opened to just how much the ones working in Primary schools have to do. I take my hat off to you all.  Particularly those that work over the summer even though they are only paid term time. Many of them have said “there’s just work that needs doing and has to be done for the new term”.

Administrators are key staff

A few years ago I was Director of Support Services at a secondary school in East London. It was a fancy title for the person in charge of all support staff and admin systems across the school (and HR management). Sort of like a Business Manager but without the finance as that really isn’t my strong point!   I was really passionate about making the support team (particularly the admin team) more visible in the school, more respected and more thought of as professionals, because that is what they are.  They are professionals, doing a skilled job that often requires specific qualifications or skills and experience. 

None of them just sit and type letters and minutes in meetings.  They set up systems, manage processes, resolve issues for other staff and listen to problems (work or personal). How many of them have tissues in their office for those moments?  Many of them are experts in Excel or willingly teach themselves how to use Publisher when the Headteacher says “can you just make this document look more professional for me”. They know how to fix a photocopier and how little Tommy’s mum is quite difficult so “don’t phone her until after 9 otherwise you’ll get an earful”. 

They know the important stuff!

They’re aware which member of SLT has sugar in coffee and which staff members will always be late for work.  They also know how to get the caretaker or IT technician to fix something urgently, and which agencies the HR manager wants to speak to and which to get rid of.  

Many of them have degrees and are as well educated as the teaching staff in the school.  We had an admin assistant in a previous school and it was only through us doing a skills audit that it transpired she wanted to be a School Business Manager and had a degree in Business and Finance.  Five years on she is now the SBM at that school. She has done an amazing job getting them out of a huge deficit.  We have to grow our own in schools. It’s so important to keep that knowledge, if you see someone has a talent for something then encourage them.  Having staff who know the ins and outs of the school makes such a difference.

Why can’t we all just be “staff”?

Having worked in private sector before entering schools one of the first things that seemed strange to me was the obvious divide between teaching staff and support staff (or non-teaching staff as they are commonly called, which I know is hated among many people!)  I am never sure why we can’t just refer to everyone as staff?  I mean we are all there for the same purpose, to ensure the young people at our schools have the best experience and are given the tools they need to go into the world as adults.  Sure we all do different jobs but we are all just adults and employees working together.


@msetchell tweeted the other day Take a moment today before you are rude to your tech support, SBM or other staff for doing their job. Getting you the right answer or solution takes time. They have been working all summer, and deserve a bit of respect. And IT, SBMs and others, report it if you get crap.”   Which I think sums up how many of us feel, particularly at the start of a new school year.

So a big shout out to all those support staff who come into work each day. Putting their to-do list aside to speak to a pupil who is upset or help a colleague to work out how to do something on the computer or deal with a flood in a toilet. 

Yes, we could all go and get jobs in a corporate office but where would the fun in that be?

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