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Experts in business so vital for education

Talking Point | Published:

Emma Gray talks of the anticipation of a new school year for today's Talking Point

Ready for the new school year?

Is a school a business? In nearly every school you will find a School Business Manager (or SBM). They might not actually be called that, or the job might be shared between a few employees doing different aspects of the role, but there is usually someone leading the ‘non-teaching’ functions such as finance, personnel, health and safety, premises, contracts (such as catering and cleaning) and administration. Whatever the size of school, it’s a massive job, needing a certain type of personality.

The SBM has got to be versatile, supportive, pro-active and confident. Can you imagine the feeling of being responsible for 1,000 youngsters on a daily basis? Do they have the text books they need? Is the site safe on a snowy day? Will they all get through the servery at lunchtime? Has their teacher been paid? Will that boiler last another winter?

Of course, the SBM shares this responsibility with the other members of the senior leadership team, but nonetheless, it’s a big undertaking.

As our state schools move from being local authority maintained into academies and join multi academy trusts, there has been a lot of debate recently among SBMs and other educationalists on how far our schools should be run as a ‘business’ and whether it is appropriate that there is an individual on the school’s leadership team who is solely focused on running the organisation, rather than being focused on the ‘customer’ (also known as a ‘pupil’).

There seems to be two camps. On one side are those that advocate that a school is a public service, not a business, and that it is all about the children. That there is no place for chief executive officers and operations directors who may never have stood at the front of a classroom. That the hierarchies of multi academy trusts requires the payment of additional tiers of employees which would be better spent on resources and improving buildings.

In the other camp are those that recognise that our schools have to improve, have to find efficiencies and have to grow, in order to provide our children with an education fit for tomorrow’s employment market. They believe that the best way to do this is to run schools as a business, with the business functions of finance, HR, purchasing and strategic leadership carried out by experts in those fields, leaving the teachers to focus on their area of expertise, teaching our children.

I’ll declare now that I’m firmly in the second camp. I believe that our school structures have to change. Numbers of children are growing, local authorities are no longer able to provide the ‘back office’ services that they have in previous years as more schools convert into academies, and we have got to find new ways to collaborate to find efficiencies and drive up standards together. In my view a school needs experts in leadership, strategy, budgeting and procurement as well as in teaching and it is only by working together that all schools can have access to all this expertise, spend their funding efficiently and share best practice.I look forward to another year of change and development.

  • Emma Gray is a school business manager and runs an education blog at workingsbm.com

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