What level are you working at?

It’s back to work this week to make a start on a new academic year and I’m thinking about all I’ve learned about my work through this blog. I have found myself reluctant to blog about SBM functions because one of the main things I’ve learned is that it is nearly impossible to tell at what sort of ‘level’ I’m working as an SBM. For example, I would never have dreamed of applying to be a NASBM fellow prior to joining Twitter and starting my blog because I am cursed with that typically British humble pie, “Oh there are loads of SBMs out there doing a much better job than me.” Similarly, I’ve always felt that there is a difference between an SBM in the secondary and primary sectors. Not better or worse, just different, which makes me feel unqualified to discuss a wide range of topics.  I also wonder, will anyone be the least bit interested in what I think about the 2017 Academy Finance Handbook or have they all read it, disseminated and made adjustments to policy already?

So where am I as an SBM? I think the trouble with our job is that we are all doing it slightly differently, with different people, skills, situations and priorities. So I thought I’d write down what I think I do well (and not so well). I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the level you believe you are working at and why. 

5 things I do well. 

1. My MI – I’ve always liked my Management Information. It is a self set up system that draws links from staffing contracts, budget, forecast and actuals and reports it on one easy-to-view report for SLT and Governors. It involves some engagement and input from me (I don’t just press a button to populate it) but I like this because it means I know what is going on. There have been some challenges in converting my system into a MAT but nothing that can’t be resolved. 

2. Staffing MI – This has got to be a separate item because although it links into the MI it is extremely useful by itself. I keep 3 years of detail running so could answer pretty much any question you want to throw at me in relation to ‘impact to budget’. For example; “if a Science Teacher goes down to 0.8 in January and I employ another technician, what is the impact on the budget?” or “If 3 staff retired at the end of next year will we manage to break even the following year?” Again the system requires input from me but not onerously so and I love that it’ll give me the answers to any of the SLT efficiency suggestions. 

3. Building – I love building. I realise that our capacity to build is finite and I have considered the Prince 2 qualification but as this would probably take me out of Education I have, so far, managed to hold my ambition in this area at bay. 

4. Health, Safety and Wellbeing –  This is important to me and I find that this is the thing I most hassle other staff about. Are we compliant? Where is the risk assessment on..? Are we ever going to squeeze a wellbeing event into the calendar?

5. Theory to Practice – I find this comes naturally and it is a big interest of mine but, as a consequence I’m not good at writing it down and going through a formal process so that everyone else can see. 

Which brings me on to; 5 things I accept that I’m not so interested in (OK, not good at.)

1. Cleaning – Arguably one of the most important non-teaching services in a school. I guess as it has always been someone else’s remit I’ve never engaged. I know that this must change this year. 

2. The ‘politics’ – I’m interested in politics and healthy debate. I enjoy being challenged and will happily accept constructive criticism. What I can’t stand is unnecessary game playing and one-upmanship. I sometimes want to say ‘if you think you think you can do my job – please, feel free’.

3. IT – OK, please don’t tell anyone this but I have a background in IT. I worked for 12 years in a company building and selling IT equipment. But I don’t have any experience of using IT in a classroom so I try (and usually succeed) to stay well out of it. 

4. Catering – Having 5 children (4 of them boys), I have some very strong ideas about feeding children. However I have found that my ideas are often not compatible with the contractor so I admit that, unless intervention is really needed, I let them get on with it.

5. Expecting too much – I think because I expect so much of myself, I expect the same of others and I need to accept that their priorities and interests are different. This can often result in my feeling let down in some way until I give myself a good talking to and appreciate my colleagues for what they have done. 

So, that is me. I like to think of myself as a high functioning and strategic SBM but I don’t really know how I compare and in a room full of SBMs I think I will always feel the least qualified and knowledgable and the most disorganised! As long as that doesn’t ever stop me giving an opinion and contributing though, I guess it doesn’t matter. 

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think your strengths and weaknesses are?

We’ve got to Let It Go

I’m always a little in awe of @shropshiresbm blogs and I read a timely retweet of Are you a next generation business leader? with interest and optimism. I was inspired, as was the intention of the theme, to consider myself an ambitious business leader, with the potential to go as far as I wish to. “There is no glass ceiling” is an inspiring ‘call to arms’ to achieve, collaborate, get qualified, lead, fly… but then that nagging disquiet floods in. Because in the back of my mind a small voice reminds me “but you love being a School Business Manager”.

Yes. I do. I love the variety and the broad skill set needed to lead all those different non-teaching functions in a school. But I am fully aware that I have got to Let It Go. I know that my job, in its present form, is disappearing over the horizon. 
I am in no doubt that our profession is about to change significantly. The government’s attempt to mount the first step on the Change Management Ladder by ‘Creating a Sense Of Urgency’ back-fired dramatically when they had to u-turn on the policy of forcing all schools to become an Academy by 2022. As a result, schools with the drive and resources to take up the leadership reins have been left hanging and everyone is confused by the continuing debate. 

Of course, we are told that the policy is still, quietly, going ahead, but without any momentum it is clear that the process is going to be piecemeal, ineffective, damaging and slow. It will also lack the required buy-in from Governors and SLT to make conversion a success for every school. 

And, as a result, step 2 is becoming unachievable. Unless school leaders can be convinced that change is necessary, they are never going to join together to ‘Form Strong Coalitions’ in order to weather the storms of change. Why would any school add to their already significant workload to follow what is still a rather vague idea promoted because it ‘might’ improve delivery and cost effectiveness?

Yes. You picked that up correctly. The required formation of Multi Academy Trusts is not the change that is coming. It is just step 2 on an 8 step process. ‘Communicating the Vision’ doesn’t come until step 4.

The glaring fact is that a Single Unit Academy or School cannot continue to operate in splendid isolation because it is clear that the funding model is not sustainable. 

So here is my idea for ‘Creating the required Sense Of Urgency’ that I believe every SBM will understand and hopefully we can use it to help us all get on step 1 of the Change Management Ladder. If you like, this is my ‘call to arms’.

Take hold of your school budget and project it forward to 2025. Use the same staff and add 1% cost of living every year, also add 1% to both pensions every year and 2% NI in 2022 (there is going to have to be a cash injection into the NHS at some point.) Then minus 1% of your income in 2021 and leave the following years at the same level of funding. 

Now do you see why there is an urgency to change the system? It is unaffordable, unsustainable and unrealistic in a modern Britain with its current size and diversity of population. 

So I am also going to be so bold and tell you that I think it is time for all SBMs to take the lead in this. Yes, it is going to mean your job changes out of all recognition. Yes, it means you are going to have to decide in which direction you want to take your leadership role. Yes, it means significant change is coming and we don’t actually know yet what that change is going to be. (Step 4 remember?)

And, if I may, I am going to stand beside @shropshiresbm to tell you that you need to be ready. To tell you that it is up to us SBMs to lead on this. That it is up to you. You absolutely do need to #Bethechange. 

One of the most important policies you probably don’t have…

She was bleeding heavily that week. The changes taking place in her body were both expected and completely normal, but terrifying none the less. The worst of it was that it was just so unpredictable. The fear that accompanied the possibility of leaking all over her uniform effected her focus and ability to function at school. The abdominal cramps affected her appetite, as well as her desire to be active, and a myriad of other personal symptoms left her a walking bundle of stress and discomfort, just when she needed to be at her most attentive. Most difficult of all, she was experiencing waves of exhaustion and heat like never before. She wasn’t sure who to discuss the issues with or how the school could or should accommodate her needs, so she waded on through, knowing it would settle down eventually. 

I know everyone would join me in sympathy for this 14 year old girl going through puberty. As school leaders and teachers we can point her in the direction of pastoral care or a counsellor, we can understand if she needs to rush out of class to find a bathroom. We can reassure her. We can find her a skirt out of lost property or we can ring home if it all becomes too overwhelming. After all, it is a perfectly normal part of growing up. 

But what if I tell you the ‘she’ is actually me? What if tell you that, as I hit the menopause, I am beginning to experience these symptoms and I sometimes find them overwhelming, stressful and terrifying. 

Do you understand when I need to rush away to find a bathroom? Do you happily sit in a cooler atmosphere because I am a walking furnace today? Do you grasp why I’m snappy because I have other stuff going on in my life and, right now, it isn’t all about you?  

Are you, as my line manager, aware of, and sympathetic to my needs? Are you proactive in helping me cope? Do you, as a school, have a protocol in place to support and reassure me if I have to drop everything at very short notice – even a class full of pupils? And, if I talk about what is going on, can you promise you won’t think me unprofessional, lacking in capability or ready to be retired?

There are guidance papers online on ‘Working through the Menopause’ that everyone should read and, most importantly, use to promote an open culture for discussion and understanding. No one is asking for special treatment, unreasonable amounts of time out or even much in the way of attention, but with three quarters of the teaching population in the UK being female, (and a considerably higher ratio of support staff) it is an issue that is going to impact us all one way or another at some point in our career. 

After all, it is just a perfectly normal part of growing up. 

Luck is (definitely) not a factor. 

Earlier this year I wrote 3 blogs using one of my favourite movie mantras, ‘Luck is not a factorHope is not a strategyFear is not an option, and after writing them I decided to try to stop using the word ‘luck’ altogether. It has been quite an enlightening experience. 

We use the word ‘luck’ frequently in our modern vocabulary. My dictionary gives the definition as – An unusual and unpredictable phenomenon which causes a favourable outcome – but we use it so often now that it has almost lost its meaning. 

“I’m so lucky I met you” says Barry (with fingers crossed behind his back). “No, actually, we both went out one night with our friends, we were single and in the same place, at the same time and I liked the way you smiled at me” I chose you. No luck involved. 

“Lucky I didn’t fall off that ladder” says the Senior Caretaker (in his West Country burr). Well no. You carried out a risk assessment. The ladder has had its annual check, you’ve been ladder trained and your assistant was holding it at the bottom. So when one of your hands missed a rung, you had 2 other points of contact and therefore did not fall. No luck involved. 

“Good luck in your exam” Barry says to DJ. “I’ve revised, don’t need luck” he replies (at 13 he is man of few words).

As a consequence, and on what I think is a further plus side, if we are going to cut ‘luck’ out then we must also, inevitably, cut out ‘bad luck’. 

So, for example, It’s not ‘bad luck’ that you slipped on the ice. A section has been salted and marked and you chose not to walk in it.

It’s not bad luck that your car won’t start, you haven’t put any petrol in it recently. (Oops!)

So, what I’m trying to say is, as every SBM knows, the other mantra also holds true. ‘Fail to prepare. Prepare to fail.’ I have no doubt that, in our work leading the support functions in a School or Trust, preparation is key. Our role is all about Risk Assessment, Training, Maintenance, and Care…Luck is not a factor. 

Try not using the word ‘luck’ yourself, see if it makes you think differently… and prepare more!