What is school business leadership?

The Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) is the UK’s foremost body for school business professionals, and we are uniquely dedicated to supporting and building the reputation of the profession, including providing qualifications, apprenticeships and CPD.

We are at the forefront of the emerging sector-led approach to professional development, and we were instrumental in the development of the professional standards which have done so much to raise the profile of and expand the skill set of the profession.












School business leadership is about:  


  • Leading Support Services – Lead, develop and coordinate support services, or your specialist function(s), to support outcomes for pupils across the school/trust by providing high-quality solutions.

  • Finance – Ensure the effective management, reporting and recording of the school's/trust's finances, including budget planning, monitoring, control and communication of financial information for decision-making.

  • Human Resources – Human resource management ensuring regulatory and legal compliance and managing, supporting and developing staff to ensure delivery of the school's/trust's strategic priorities in line with the vision and School Development Plan (SDP).

  • Infrastructure – Ensure the fundamental facilities and services necessary for the school/trust to function are maintained to drive sustainability and support teaching and learning excellence. Assist in expansion and support community engagement.

  • Procurement – Procure goods and services on a value-for-money basis (economy, efficiency and effectiveness) to support education delivery within the context of regulatory frameworks and legislation.

  • Marketing – Ensure the development of a marketing and communication strategy which promotes the school/trust and defines the brand, aims and goals. Develop pupil recruitment, stakeholder engagement via appropriate communication channels and maximise income generation.


How do I become a school business professional?

There are a number of routes available into school business leadership subject to your career stage and previous experience and qualifications.

1. Qualifications

The profession of the School Business Management and Leadership has risen quickly in recent years, particularly as many school systems in England have changed from a local authority school-based model to a centrally funded academy model. The School Business Manager role has evolved from the school bursar and school secretary; school business professionals are now senior members of non-teaching staff responsible for the business management of schools – all the administrative and logistical aspects of running a school efficiently and effectively.

ILM provides a suite of qualifications for this group – starting with building core skills in school management for those moving into a management role at Level 4 through to skills in strategy development and implementation in schools at Level 5.

These qualifications have been developed in cooperation with the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) and are based on core areas of the ISBL Professional Standards.

Follow the links below to read more about each qualification and search for an ILM Centre near you.


2. New to the profession – aspiring school business leader?

An aspiring school business leader can be defined as someone who is currently working outside the school/education sector, but who aspires to become a school business professional in a primary/secondary school or academy.

Training providers recognise the value of transferable management, operational and strategic level skills offered by aspiring school business professionals and the benefit these can bring to the leadership and management of schools.

If you do not work in a school but wish to become a school business professional (SBP), completing an SBP programme could be your first step towards joining this exciting profession.

Aspiring programme is on offer from the SBM Partnership.

There are also specific entry routes available for ex-military:

There is a dedicated MOD Aspiring SBM programme, which is designed for Ministry of Defence (MOD) career transition students who are considering moving into a school business professional role.

Aspiring school business professionals can also make use of the new apprenticeships.


3. Already in the profession?

ISBL provides a framework of qualifications underpinned by professional standards linked to membership categories to assist professional development regardless of career stage. We also guide practitioners through a personalised CPD journey, setting out clear career pathways and development options available.

This simple table aims to present the qualifications currently available and their funding options:


Funding options


School Administration Foundation Certificate (SAFC)






Level 4 diploma in school business management



Level 5 diploma in school business management






Level 3 Business Administrator



Level 4 School Business professional

Apprenticeship levy


Level 6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA)

Apprenticeship levy


Level 7 Senior Leadership

Apprenticeship levy





CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy)



Level 7 Certificate in school financial and operational leadership




What roles are available in school business leadership?

ISBL carried out job mapping research to better understand the types of roles emerging in the market. 

Examples of job titles include: Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial and Operations Officer, Head of Human Resources, School Business Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Finance Manager and School Business Lead. 

ISBL has developed sample job descriptions for the SBM, CFO and COO roles. 

For more information on jobs available in school business leadership, visit our jobs board.


Complex career pathways and choices

Some practitioners have entered the profession with transferable skills from other sectors but no school experience, and others have developed their career working within education. Some have made this a second career, and others have followed a clear career development path to their current role.













Career pathways and qualifications


View the ISBL Review of School Business Professional career pathways and qualifications (2018) here.











Click on links below to read real-life examples of current school business professionals' journeys into the profession.


Case study 1  Sarah Perry. Flow chart of Sarah's career pathway click here

Case study 2 Russell Dalton. Flow chart of Russell's career pathway click here

Case study 3 Elaine Armstrong. Flow chart of Elaine's career pathway click here

Case study 4  Joanne Robinson. Flow chart of Joanne's career pathway click here