When I’m explaining my role to someone that doesn’t work in a school, I’m often asked this question as part of the conversation. I know that there are a good number of formally trained colleagues in our profession but for me the answer is ‘no’ and I admit that this always leaves me feeling a little inadequate. How can I be so brazen to think that I can manage a Trust budget without those letters after my name? How can I possibly give Trustees confidence in my ability without those years of formal training? How can I feel secure that I will continue to be a capable leader as the Trust grows? How will my skills fit into the future of Education Leadership and School Finance?
I’ll tell you.
I’ve been a School Business Manager for over 15 years. In that time I’ve seen FMS, SAP and SAGE inside out. I’ve embraced a pretty steep learning curve year on year and accepted frequent challenge and change. I’ve taken on significant professional development and learned important lessons from the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Most important of all, I view myself as a professional; capable, experienced and qualified to do the job I love.
This is why I can answer all those ‘How?’ questions positively. I believe in myself, my capacity to learn and my acceptance of, and ability to recover from, setbacks.
For many people, Finance is one of those mysterious functions, shrouded in a fog of their unwillingness to see numbers as interesting or an inability to see the story behind the figures. Some are more comfortable with words, some with science, some with practical tasks. I think a successful SBL has got to love the numbers, got to be able to manipulate them, got to be able to see what the financial reports are saying, as well as what they are forecasting, and has got to be able to communicate that story to the decision makers, all with in the context of their school or Trust.
When I was in Year 6 (a very long time ago) I had the good fortune to have a lover of maths as a class teacher. In the days of the non-calculator ‘number bonds’ his most important lesson was that we be able to look beyond the numbers themselves. Why did 8 x 7=56? How come you can put 6 into 42 7 times? How can we be sure that the answer to that very long sum is correct? It was about enjoying the numbers, their rhythm and their message, not to be frightened of them or decide that you “couldn’t do it” when your exercise book wasn’t filled with ticks.
I’m realistic enough to know that if I were to go under the proverbial bus tomorrow the Trust would probably look for an accountancy qualification in their next Finance Director. They couldn’t risk an unknown unqualified entity in this vital role. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to grow with my role but it is inevitable, as Trusts develop, that the SBL role is going to separate into more specifically focused functions, with Finance being one of the most crucial. I think that is a loss to School Leadership. I believe that having someone in the school that understands the big picture and is experienced enough to see, and tell, the story behind the numbers will enable Trusts to grow more efficiently and successfully.
So the next time someone asks “Are you an Accountant?” say “No, I am more than that. I am a School Business Leader.”
I’d love to hear what you think. Are you a lover of numbers? How do you feel about our role becoming more function specific? What training are you thinking of doing next? Do you remember ‘number bonds’?
By Emma Gray - January 2018