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?

Collaborate to Innovate

 I read an article by the Harvard Business Review recently entitled ‘Innovation is as Much About Finding Partners as Building Products’ (link) which inspired me to go back to my love of applying Industry Strategy to Education.
The article asserts that the desire to innovate is no longer enough in any industry to guarantee success and that the task of creating innovation in today’s world requires such a range of qualifications and skills as to be unaffordable for any business other than the largest organisation with massive resources to draw upon. In Industry, you have to think of all the specialist and regulatory knowledge required in areas including strategy, technology, data analysis, production, marketing, finance, HR, health and safety, as well as understanding the efficiencies of the physical assets, before you can even begin to innovate.

It’s the same in Education in the UK. How can all our schools, working mostly (but not always) in isolation possibly hope to find any time to innovate to a degree that might go towards enabling the service as a whole to take a leap forward?

Harvard and I, we are convinced that collaboration is the answer.

And I’m not talking that well-meaning ‘come-and-share-our-training-provider-for half-a-day’ sort of collaboration. I’m talking about identifying your core skill, finding a partner to work with on improving it further and then sharing it far and wide.

So, what are you really good at?

As an employee of an Outstanding School, Teaching School and newly formed MAT you would think that we have a lot to offer. We have got some amazingly talented teaching staff and exceptional data analysts, we have an extremely effective technical team, and a clear strategy of where we want to head, but I have been dismayed at the barriers that are put up around us by other schools.

Contrary to what you might think, I believe this school, as a unit, is the right size. I don’t want a merger, I don’t want to force you into a MAT (although I believe the benefits we would both gain are considerable), I don’t want to make anyone redundant and I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I do want to share our skills and work with you to improve the teaching, learning, assessment and business functions of both our schools. After that, I want to make what we’ve learned available to other schools because you can bet that the school down the road has got an idea to improve it even further!

As Harvard points out, for collaboration to work effectively the old and the new have to work together. Your experience has a lot to teach me, of course, but what if bringing your experience to tweak my new idea blows Education out of the ball park for the next generation of students?  I don’t believe I am being over optimistic when I say that the opportunities we currently have for both formal and informal collaboration could lead to a reinvention of Education in the UK, giving us the solutions, productivity and advances in delivery that we would wish for. However, it is going to take a real exchange of ideas and we are going to need to get over this anxious concern about competition and loss of identity. Yes, like anything, it is risky, but so is standing still and I know I’d rather keep moving forward.