I had three separate conversations last week on how the role of the School Business Manager is changing. Conversations with strong advocates of the role telling me there is no way back now. That we all have to move forward in a new landscape of School Business Management. A landscape that probably doesn’t include the role itself. So I have been inspired to ask, after a significant period away from my blog, what’s to become of the SBM?
We have talked about the role of the SBM for years. How does it fit within the organisation of Education Leadership? Why is it not viewed (some might say valued) on an equal footing with the leaders of teaching and learning? How can we promote the role as a “profession” and make it an aspiration of graduates? We have come a long way over the last ten years, supporting each other by establishing a strong professional association and effective networks. Our demands for recognition are being heard and we are effectively sharing skills locally, regionally and nationally.
But now it is beginning to look like the party is over.
The benefit of hindsight
With the benefit of hindsight, it is becoming apparent that the role itself was always untenable. How could we have possibly thought that one person leading (doing) the whole range of non-teaching functions in each separate school was going to be a sustainable solution? I’m of the view that it is only because the role has attracted such committed, hard working and collaboratively-minded individuals, we have managed to keep it going for so long!
And then along came Covid. In a role already pushed to its limits we stretched to lock down, bubbling, risk assessment and mass testing.
I will be the first to put my hands up to the need to say “enough”. I think we now need to work together to pull this forward. Let’s stop talking about the SBM, the SBL or the SBP and let’s start talking about School Business Management. Let’s start talking about how we can most effectively get what each and every school, of any size, needs. Someone to take responsibility for finance, another someone to take the lead on health, safety and wellbeing, a different someone to take responsibility for the payroll and personnel function, another someone to lead on improving the woeful state of the national school estate. You get the idea. One person cannot do all this.
In the, soon to be, aftermath of Covid, we are undoubtedly being pushed to join together and merge into collaborative entities, into Trusts whose aim is to provide the best education for the children in their communities. I’m still not sure why there is such a reluctance to do this (at least there is in my region). But, it seems, the result of the push is the end of the profession as we know it. Centralised functions are taking over the traditional role of the SBM and Estelle Morris’ vision of ‘one in every school’ is now more than most schools need, or want, to afford.
What’s to become of the SBM?
If, like me, you have been watching the writing on the wall through your own Covid haze, you’ll know its not going to be an easy transition. The profession already seems to be haemorrhaging practitioners. Many school leaders will also delay the process, trying to maintain the status quo. Hanging on to a perceived (unsustainable) “independence” as the goalposts change, before they are forced into a situation which they might not have chosen for themselves.
SBMs, we have all long said, need to pick a skill team and get themselves trained up in one area of School Business Management. They need to support their school through the inevitable change, move into position with their own schools chosen alliance, or strike out with their solid transferrable skills.
This whole blog, the first I have written in many months, sounds very ‘doom and gloom’, but this is not how I see the future. The future for School Business Management is rosy. It’s still an amazing and fulfilling function. But, like most things in life, it is inevitably changing. We will get the transition right, because that is what we do. We have developed a strong voice and we now need to use it. Not to hold on to what we know (I hesitate to call it a comfortable chair because it is so far from that!), but to drive the change forward into a more sustainable future.
A future in which School Business Management is a collaboration, not one role. A future in which we welcome important roles into our local, regional and national associations of School Business Management. Those roles that don’t identify as an SBM but are vital to school operations. IT leaders, HR leaders, CFOs, COOs and Finance Managers, Admissions and Attendance Officers. All those important roles that we can now share across trusts as part of the business function.
What’s to become of the SBM? Post Covid, we are standing on the edge of the precipice where we can choose to drop or fly. Collaborate or fall back. We can choose our own path, or we can wait to be channelled into one of someone else’s choice. I think we can do this together and I know, like me, you’re going to want to fly.
If you’d like to talk about what it means for the SBM to become part of a Trust, please do get in touch.