An SBP role in a school can sometimes be a lonely one, as there are unlikely to be colleagues with similar responsibilities, priorities and pressures. It took me about two years in post to have reached a place where I felt able to breathe and look up from my desk and out of the school’s walls… only to realise that I was surrounded by colleagues in a similar position to me – SBPs in other local schools.
I had made some links with a few local colleagues, including attending the regular secondary school bursar meetings, but I wasn’t making the most of this invaluable source of experience and support, and was continuing to try to find answers largely on my own.
While attending our LA-run annual SBM conference two years ago, there was a working session where groups of SBP colleagues developed ideas that could continue after the conference. In our group, we focused on collaboration, and came up with the idea of setting up an SBM hub for all schools in the local area. Two years on and it’s still going strong; meeting 4-6 times a year in different local schools, and covering a range of issues.
The hub has put in place informal buddying arrangements for new SBPs in the hope of preventing others finding themselves in the lengthy introductory period that I found myself in, unable to look up from my desk, let alone outside of the walls. We now more regularly share ideas and requests for support with each other and have introduced a shared best practice section to our annual conference, where we lead sessions to present our experiences and ideas to each other.
We have also used the hub to identify potential partner schools to work together on specific projects, such as on joint funding bids or on the shared cleaning contract we now have in place across two secondaries and two primaries, delivering savings and an area manager dedicated solely to the contract with our four schools.
One of the hub’s biggest successes has been amplifying our individual voices. SBP colleagues have come together to express shared views on a range of issues, resulting in a number of improvements to the service offered to us by the LA; something that would have been unlikely to happen with just one or two people raising the same issues on their own. Despite being a self-starting, self-organising group with no formal status, the hub is seen by LA colleagues as an important forum for communicating with us and for hearing our collective voice.
One of the elements of this more outward-looking approach that has been most valuable to me as a secondary school SBP has been forging stronger links with my primary and special school colleagues. Of course there are differences in the specific challenges facing the different phases, but there are many more similarities. We are also vastly outnumbered by our primary and special colleagues, so I enjoy benefitting from the wealth of different backgrounds, skills and experiences on offer amongst them (as well as amongst my secondary colleagues).
In my school, we are keen to be a “net exporter” of advice and support to other schools. As my level of experience has grown, I have undertaken a secondment and been commissioned for one-off pieces of work such as help with a restructure and the delivery of training, and I am about to embark on a role as a coach on the SBP Apprenticeship Programme.
As well as benefiting my own personal development, these opportunities also bring in an income for the school, which is critical in the current financial climate. However, as important as it is to find innovative sources of income, I believe it is equally important not to monetise everything at the expense of supporting your colleagues. I still share templates, advice and time with colleagues, and benefit from the same in return.
Being able to both help and learn from others is an extremely rewarding aspect of my role. Having these opportunities as well as the support from within my school to work more collegiately with others has greatly enhanced my knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of my role and has benefitted my school as well as myself.
I would strongly advocate looking around in your area for opportunities to both seek and provide support. And if what you find doesn’t go far enough for you – why not get together with a colleague or two and set something up?