The Changing Role of the School Business Leader (SBL) in 2021

Posted  24th May 2021
Posted by  SBL Day Partner

Partner Blog from Val Andrew

There is no denying that the role of the school business leader today is very different to the one envisaged by the architects of the SBM role, when, 20 years ago the National College opened up a free and incremental CPD pathway for those aspiring to replicate the independent sector bursar role across all state schools.

A generic SBM role eventually became more widely established – and then came The Academies Act in 2010 unleashing turmoil and change and leading to another quiet revolution in education business circles.

The huge diversity we now see across the education network is mirrored by an equal diversity in the roles of school business leaders (I prefer to use the term SBL to perpetuate the notion that this is a leadership role and covers the plethora of titles now evident). So, - is this diversity a good thing or not?

Val Andrew

I believe the diversity in SBL roles is a positive development, for various reasons:

  1. It opens up a world of opportunity for SBL practitioners and those aspiring to the role – where once there was just a generalist role encapsulating a wide range of responsibilities there is now more opportunity for specialisation and an incremental career pathway for those aspiring to executive and strategic roles. The advent of school groups – be those federations or multi academy trusts – provided a range of different levels of experience from the operational and administrative to the executive and strategic and everywhere in between. In the same way that not every classroom teacher aspires to headship, not every SBL aspires to the dizzy heights of executive/strategic business leadership – so the diverse range of roles accommodates those preferring the more operational/administrative model.
  2. The increasing complexity of the SBL roles within academies has helped to draw parallels with the private sector business community where CFO and COO roles are commonplace. There are an increasing number of CFO and COO roles emerging across the sector. Drawing those parallels a little further – it’s clear that within the private sector the CEO relationship with the COO/CFO is critical to the success of an organisation and those roles are integral within the leadership structure. This serves to reinforce the notion that the SBL (regardless of role title) should be a leadership role and can be essential to the success of a school/group of schools.
  3. Diversity in the roles has opened up a wealth of options for CPD. The stalwart DSBM Level 4 programme provides a robust foundation on which to build a career as a School Business Leader either as a generalist or specialist or a mix of both. The choice available can be quite confusing to navigate so today’s SBL needs to dedicate time and energy to seeking out the pathway that suits them, their schools and their career aspirations in the best way. The new ISBL Professional Development Guidance document is a useful resource to help choose the best CPD route.

Undeniably there remain a few challenges ahead for the SBL profession.

Frustratingly there remain pockets of cultural resistance to the notion that a member of the support staff can be integral to the leadership function of a school or group of schools. With the current crisis in teacher recruitment and retention threatening the leadership pipeline, there’s ongoing work to do in “educating” newly appointed school leaders about the scope and benefits of the SBL role(s).

Strategies to help achieve this could include gentle reminders about:

  • a shared moral purpose in seeking to ensure that all pupils and young people have access to the very best educational opportunities to be able to achieve their potential;
  • the potential for focusing time and effort on teaching and learning, confident that a reliable, experienced and qualified SBL is dealing with all the other things that could land you in jail;
  • the potential for improving resource management to enable schools to be more financially sustainable;
  • the stealth and effectiveness of response to pandemic management in 2020/21 where SBLs showcased their absolute dedication, professionalism, resourcefulness and leadership qualities.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list, and one of my favourite quotes from a practitioner was that he felt his role was to turn the dreams within the School Improvement Plan into reality.

SBLs themselves have a role to play in demonstrating that they are worthy leaders in their own right. After all leadership isn’t a right of passage based on what it says on your school badge (apart from the Headteacher that is)…integration within the school leadership forum has to be earned through respect, competency, strategic thinking, proactivity and not assumed as a right.

The trouble is many SBL practitioners are quietly modest and just get on with the job regardless of the challenges they face and that’s why the SBS National School Business Leaders Day on 11th June, is a brilliant concept and provides us all with the opportunity to say a massive “thank you” to these unsung SBL heroes, and openly celebrate their contributions and achievements. Awareness raising like this supports the ongoing quest for greater visibility and acknowledgement for this role in our sector.

About Val Andrew

  • Programme Manager for Best Practice Network DSBM Level 4 - find out more:
  • Patron of ISBL
  • Formerly ASCL School Business Leadership Specialist (2010 - 2018)
  • Recipient of ISBL CEO Award for exceptional contributions to school business leadership in 2018
  • Semi - retired SBL and very proud grandma

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