Everybody is Somebody’s Wingman

I’m feeling devastated by the announcement from my Wingman yesterday that she is leaving to take up a role in another school. Of course, as is the accepted way in Education, I knew she had applied and that she had an interview. I’d written her a reference and we’d had a discussion about what this new role might offer, but I never dreamed that she would actually go!

You see, in all my 15 years as a School Business Manager, this last year has been the most challenging. It has been a hard slog of almost constant change throughout the year. Together, my Wingman and I have had to find new ways of working, introduce new policies, cover for colleagues for whom the changes proved too much, as well as maintaining the day-to-day functions and the morale of other staff. I know it can’t have been easy but she has demonstrated such enormous resilience and, to my mind, she is leaving just when we are about to realise the benefits of all our foundation building work.

I know that I can’t expect to keep my Wingman forever; she isn’t the first one of mine to have grown sufficiently in confidence and skill to enable a move into a position of responsibility commensurate with her capability. Of course, I am thrilled for her success. But for a few days I am going to indulge in feeling bereaved, disorientated and unprepared for the future, so that I can move into a place that understands and accepts her choice.

When I told Barry, he helpfully reminded me of a recent statistic that (whatever they may tell you) 75% of employees leave because of the Boss! So as part of my grieving process, maybe I better spend some time reflecting on whether I could have anticipated and averted her desire to leave.

Am I a Team Player? One of the challenges of being an SBM is that you have to be an active member of a few separate teams. I consider that leading the Finance Team is one of my most important roles and my Wingman takes on all the day-to-day Finance function and staff. I like to do the budget and monthly MI, maybe sharing this will enable my Wingman to be more involved with the whole picture.

Do I push too hard? I accept that I am probably demanding to work with, not in a “do as you’re told” kind of way, but I’m conscious that I set quite a challenging pace. I expect my team to tell me when they have reached capacity. I’m happy to share work, I know there are peaks and troughs in our office and I can input a purchase order or count the non-uniform day bucket. But maybe they can see me working at capacity and don’t like to add to my workload, perhaps I should be more aware of this.

Am I too ‘hands-on’? As an ex-auditor my Wingman bought with her our saying ‘Trust is not a control’. Together we have set up some pretty tight controls, segregation of duties and risk management initiatives. She enforces these controls in the office very effectively and it does mean that I must take my role in the process and not try to do everything, perhaps I need to work harder at this.

So, after this weekend of feeling sorry for myself (and hoping she’ll come to her senses and stay!) here is the Wingman personality (in order of priority) I will be looking for,

Resilient – Not everything will go right, accept , resolve and move on.

Good listener – If I’ve got a problem, I like to talk it through. I find that explaining the issue to someone else is often the quickest way to discover a solution.

Policy enforcer – I recognise that I need someone to remind me of policy and protocol while I am in ‘solution-mode’.

Attention to detail – I need someone to help me control the minutiae. I find little, and avoidable, mistakes annoying. We just haven’t got time for them.

So, unless a miracle happens, I will need to demonstrate my own resilience and put an advert together next week. I need someone as soon as possible of course, but I don’t like rushing this process, the SBM Wingman role is too important to the wellbeing of the whole team and I also have to consider the person for whom I am Wingman. So, as I love to quote from Top Gun, you should be aware that, when it comes to choosing a new Wingman, “I will fire when I am goddamn good and ready.”


What do you look for in a Wingman?

Note: My wonderful Finance Assistant, who has been massively supportive, proactive and patient throughout our years together, doesn’t know about this blog. I have, of course, told her how much I value her contribution (and don’t want her to go). Feel free to share this with your Wingman. We need to look after them!

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?

School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 4

The full moon lit the way back up the cliff for Anna and Barry and they chatted quietly as they made their way up the steep path. They were close to the house when Anna stopped. “That makes me so cross,” she hissed.

“What’s that?”

“Can you give me one of those poo bags that are always threatening to clog up the washing machine?” Barry sighed, he had to accept that his failure to remember to empty his pockets before his clothes went into the wash was one of Anna’s pet hates.

“Useful sometimes though” he smiled, handing her a small black plastic bag. Anna wrapped it over her hand and dived under a very prickly gorse bush, picking up the offending mess and securing it tightly before placing it in her jacket pocket. “Totally yuk!” Barry exclaimed, “please don’t ask me to hold that hand again tonight.”

“Are we spending the day on the beach tomorrow?” Anna asked brightly. “I’d like to do some rock pooling.”

“As long as you’ve got decent picnic supplies.” Barry laughed.

 

Blandford arrived early the following morning and had decided it was Barry’s turn to answer some of his questions. The blue skies promised another stunning day so he agreed to meet Anna on the beach when he was finished and she started down the cliff. “May I join you?” Robert, carrying a towel, was on his way for a swim.

“Of course.” It was difficult not to like Robert. He was, as Rebecca had observed, very handsome and aging extremely well. He had a relaxed ‘trust-me’ air about him and Anna guessed that this was what made him such a good estate agent. “If I may join you for a swim?” Anna smiled.

Anna was competent but she wasn’t a strong swimmer and she was nervous about swimming in the sea alone. “Everyone should be able to swim well.” Robert said forcefully “You never know when it might save your life.”

“Is that what happened to Jeremy?” Anna enquired cautiously. “Only if you want to talk about it.”

“It was a long time ago. I still find it difficult to talk about.” Robert stumbled slightly on the path and Anna put out a hand to steady him. “Thank you. I’m sure Janice would have happily told you all about it, she would never let me forget, and she was full of ideas about what had happened, even though it was ruled an accident at the time”

“How was Janice involved?” Anna was astounded that there were further connections that she hadn’t yet discovered. “She wasn’t involved, she had a complete crush on Jeremy, wouldn’t leave him alone. He couldn’t wait to go off to university and escape. She’s never forgiven me.”

The water was cold and Anna was annoyed to find the warm gentle lapping of the shallows had deceived her. By the time she’d waded up to her thighs she realised she was either going to have to dive in or head back to the shore. “You OK?” Robert was beside her in the water. Anna nodded and launched herself under the water.

“Next time, I’m bringing a surf suit.” She gasped on surfacing, trying to block out the cold and keep moving, they started to swim. Robert maintained an even pace alongside her, matching her crawl stroke with very little effort and slicing efficiently through the water with long tan arms. As they swam farther out, Anna slowly became aware that Robert seemed to be swimming closer to her, every time her face turned towards him he met her eyes and Anna could feel herself becoming anxious at his proximity. His body’s rhythm appeared to be locked in synchronisation with hers as if watching and waiting for an opportune moment to strike her. His eyes bored intensely into hers, he looked desperate, almost wild. Panic started to rise in her chest and the tightness gripped inside her, interrupting her own rhythm and making breathing difficult. In an effort to keep calm, Anna concentrated on swimming off to one side, trying to put at least an arms length of distance between herself and this man.

As if to compensate, Robert manoeuvred even closer to her. At every arm stroke Anna’s fear grew, aware that if he locked his arm over hers he could pull her under the surface without any difficulty. She had nothing with which to defend herself and started to contemplate whether stopping dead in the water and turning back to the shore would give Robert the opportunity he was looking for. Anna looked behind her, the shore wasn’t so far away, she turned in an arc away from Robert who continued to keep pace. “I’m going back.” Anna knew that her terror was causing her to flail ineffectively in the water and she was splashing like a frightened child. Seawater was going up her nose causing her to splutter the acrid salt taste as it went down her throat. Her arms and legs burned in protest at the demands she was making on them and her brain seemed to disconnect from her limbs. She could feel herself sinking in the water.

At that moment, Anna felt Robert grab her roughly. His long arm stretched around her chest under both arms and he flipped her onto her back. Anna gasped, a mouthful of seawater flooded in and knew she was helpless. In the next movement, Robert’s strength lifted her upright onto her feet and she realised she was standing in three feet of water. Coughing and choking, Robert half dragged and half lifted her back onto the beach and dumped her in the sand.

“What on earth was that?” Robert asked crossly. “Can’t you swim?”

“Of course I can swim.” Anna’s terror had turned to indignation and anger. “Just not when someone is practically swimming on top of me.”

Robert’s face softened “Oh God I’m so sorry was I doing that?” Anna finished coughing and turned to look at him, realising she wasn’t in any danger. “I haven’t swum with anyone in open water since that day with Jeremy.” Robert slumped beside her on the sand, he suddenly looked older and more worn out than his years. “It was so awful, we did it for a dare, to race across the lake at the golf club. I’d got right over the other side before I realised Jeremy wasn’t with me. I shouted and searched but I couldn’t find him. It took Police divers two hours to recover his body. He was such a good swimmer, I still don’t know what happened, he should have beaten me easily.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes it was, it was my idea and I should have stayed with him.” Robert’s raised voice indicated just how much rage was still within him.

“You couldn’t have known what was going to happen.”

“I’m so sorry Anna, the water in the lake was freezing too, I just didn’t want the same thing to happen again. I needed to be close to you, protect you.” Robert was beginning to compose himself.

“Well, thank you for rescuing me before I swallowed the whole English Channel.“ Anna smiled. “No harm done.”

 

Barry waved from the top of the cliff and started down the slope, Anna couldn’t help but be relieved to see him and started to dig the picnic out from the bottom of her rucksack. “How did it go?”

“It was OK, I think Blandford wants to talk to you next but he said it would have to be later this afternoon. He’s gone now.” Barry bit enthusiastically into his cheese roll. “How’s the water?”

“Freezing.” Robert replied, accepting a proffered roll. “I’d stick to paddling if I were you.”

“Anna wants to go rock pooling, I’ll be carrying the bucket.” Barry laughed, proudly holding aloft the child’s red plastic container, he held out his other hand to his wife. “Ready?”

 

Anna and Barry strolled back up to the house after a happy afternoon picking their way over the rock pools, turning boulders and watching the tide recede down the beach, uncovering new shoreline plants and wildlife as it went.

Blandford was waiting for Anna and directed her into the small family room behind the kitchen that had been set up as an incident room. Anna sat in a comfortable chair and looked at Blandford as he patted his jacket pocket and opened a small notebook. “I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get to you.” Blandford started. “Your husband was very helpful this morning and suggested it might save a lot of time if I talked to you next.”

“No problem.” Anna had decided to wait and see in which direction Blandford took his questioning of her. He seemed to be struggling in that decision himself.

“I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to try something.” Blandford started. “Your husband thinks that you know who did it and that you could prove it, but he tells me that I will have to ask the right questions.” He looked directly at Anna who remained impassive. “Do you know who killed Janice?”

“Yes.” Anna replied.

“Do you know why she was killed?”

“Yes” Anna replied.

“Do you know how she was killed?”

“Yes” Anna replied

“Do you have any evidence?”

“Yes” Anna replied.

Blandford considered his next question carefully. “Do you think there is any likelihood that he or she will kill again?”

“No” Anna replied.

Blandford smiled. “Normally I would just now sit here and wait for you to crack under the pressure of my stare and tell me everything, but I have a feeling that won’t work with you.”

“No and before we go into any detail, I’ll need you to do something for me” Anna reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out the small black poo bag and passed it to Blandford.

“What’s this?” Blandford held it cautiously.

“I think that should give you all the evidence you need. It’s a golfing glove. You should get it tested because it is likely that you will find Janice’s blood on the outside and the murderer’s DNA on the inside.”

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. 

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.

Caution – Superficial blog alert!

She's devoted to her careerSometimes I like to shop. This doesn’t occur very often so I need to grab it when it happens and try to update my working wardrobe. I say ‘try’ because I am easily distracted by unsuitable-for-work shoes and anything in brown, which Barry insists is not professional.

So, having seen some other blogs giving advice on what to wear, I thought I’d offer my view…

First of all, the rules (there are always rules). On non-pupil days you can skip through the school in your pants for all I care, but when school is in session I have rules.

  1. Denim is for the weekend. I don’t want to see school staff in denim and those black denim jeans are going to have to be very fresh out of the shop to pass under my ‘scruffy’ radar.
  2. Men should wear a collar (sorry if that is sexist – but there it is). I can take or leave a tie but if you are going to wear one, it needs to be properly done up.
  3. Skirts – if I can see your pants, it is too short, if you trip on the stairs, it is too long.
  4. In my view, the demise of the ‘modesty panel’ is a sad loss, I don’t think the cleavage is an appropriate accessory in school workwear.

Now that is out of the way…what to wear? I do think men have it pretty easy anyway. They can go for the perfectly acceptable “smart casual” (see rule 2), or the suit. Women have it a little more tricky so read on.

The Suit – I like a suit. I feel in control, professional and smart, ready for anything the day might throw at me. I’ll wear a suit if I know I’ve got a sticky meeting. I quite like mis-matched (but complimentary) pieces and I like a proper shirt underneath. I don’t think you can go far wrong with M&S especially if you can throw it in the wash and then wave the iron over it for a return to good-as-new, all the better. (Link to the suit below)

Suit

The Dress – I am a bit of a sucker for the fitted dress. I have a few beautiful ones in my wardrobe, with a jacket or a cardigan you can feel smart and fabulous. I love Hobbs, which I know are a little more pricey but worth saving my pennies for I think. This one is gorgeous. (Link to the dress below) but I’m not sure I like the shoes, even if they are brown.

Dress

The Separates – OK, so most of my wardrobe is a mishmash of smart skirts and trousers, shirts and blouses, heels and flats, cardigans and jackets. This lets me ring the changes constantly depending on my mood and what I’ve got planned for the day. One find I’ve been pleased with recently is the shirtbody. I may be late to the party but all those female TV FBI agents must be keeping their shirts tucked in somehow, I thought. So I googled it and bought two. They have changed my life. (advice – go 2 sizes bigger than you normally would(Link to shirt below)

shirtbody

Finally, I have two more experiences to share on the working wardrobe;

  1. Clothes last much longer if you don’t wash them too often, you can either try not to break into a sweat at work if you can help it, or you can buy decent wicking underwear, which brings me to…
  2. In my experience of working in a school, you are going to need a vest. Yes, all year.

 

P.S. I’m just brazenly copying pictures of the clothing I like from websites, I have no links to anyone and I’m not getting anything in return. I’m practising for future funding linkage as, yes, I still need to work on earning that MUGA!