During my career as a School Business Manager, I have had the privilege to be a member of school business network groups on a local, county and national level. I have felt pride, awe and respect for the level of dedication and entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated by my school business professional colleagues. This high standard and ‘thinking outside the box’ has been evident regardless of the role from Support Officers to Directors of Finance and Operations. It has also related to colleagues irrespective of school context from Multi Academy Trusts, Standalone Academies, Maintained Schools, Foundation Schools or Independent Schools.
Now I know you may be now thinking – yatter, yatter, yatter – and that you already know this from your own experience but possibly this is not fully understood by all School Business Professionals. This possibility was highlighted to me at a conference towards the end of 2017. A colleague on my table asked each of us what type of school we managed. I answered that my school is a maintained school and I was slightly aghast to hear the response of ‘Oh well you have it easy then’. I then informed her of the support areas that I have brought in house and lead within my school – Accounts Payable, Catering, Payroll, Premise Management, Cleaning. All of these strategies have been implemented successfully, improved the business services to the school and impacted on benefits to the pupils. The colleague who had made the statement of ‘easy’ replied that ‘Oh so the LA does not do everything for you then?’ Business Professionals who work in Maintained Schools should operate in line with the Local Authority regulations. However, this is arguably not much different to an Academy within a Trust? However, as with every school, the direction and agenda comes straight from the top – the Department for Education and Educational Skills and Funding Agency.
With the shrinkage of Local Authority capacity, there has been wide spread delegation to Maintained Schools nationwide. This challenge has been seized as an opportunity by Maintained School Business Professionals to review the support and services to their schools. It continues to be a vital role to make decisions on the efficiency and effectiveness of school services including value for money, especially in these times of real term funding cuts.
I feel there is also a lesson to learn here for all school business professionals. It is important to understand the value, input, knowledge and skills from all of our colleagues and to avoid selective collaboration within context set groups. For example, I work in a Special School but my school has benefitted from cost savings and support from my attendance at a local Primary School Network. Benefits include Group Purchasing Discounts, local advice and working together on procedures, for example GDPR compliance.
In summary, as an increasingly diverse profession, we should not underestimate the challenges and opportunities faced by each of us in the sector. Let us continue to do what we do best through collaboration, professional discussion and strategic analysis – sharing ideas, good practice and not working in silos. This is then a clear recognition of the support for each other in the important role we undertake in facilitating change so that our pupils can achieve their best potential.
By Fiona Gill - June 2018