Running on Empty - SBMs by @SBM365

Full title: Running on Empty - when School Business Managers are no longer able to manage school business


Running on empty: Loads of schools have someone like me; almost all secondaries, lots of primaries, some specials. We’re the ones tasked with managing the school’s finances and resources - all the non-teaching things that keep the liner afloat. We write the budget, manage the finances, do all the health & safety stuff, we run the facilities, the grounds, the canteen and the cleaning. We’re in charge of recruitment, HR, communications, marketing, insurance, compliance, safeguarding, data, IT, or a combinations of all of those things. All of those massively critical and essential things that happen in schools but which aren’t pedagogical. Call us FDs, SBMs, SBLs, Bursars, you know the people I mean.

I’ve been doing the job a few years now and I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I get a massive sense of achievement in being able to resource great facilities for my schools, so our students have wonderful learning environments and access to all manner of resources. I love to bid for, plan and deliver building projects that expand great provisions, which allow for state-of-the-art technology and inspirational thinking. I hope that some of the projects I’ve worked on have inspired young people to achieve excellence, to have extraordinary learning experiences and to challenge themselves and their thinking.

I like to send out proposal forms to SLT and Heads of Departments in late Nov, early Dec, where I ask them to let me know their wish lists for the next financial year. I want to hear about their plans to deliver exceptional learning opportunities and what resources or facilities they might need to be able to deliver outstanding teaching and learning. When I get those bids back I like to push them even further, future-proofing them, expanding them and looking into collaboration opportunities to share what we have with others. And then, when I’m budgeting, I do all I possibly can to write those exciting risk-taking passionate projects into our plans. Hearing comments from students along the lines of “wow, this place is amazing”, “I’m so excited about doing that” and “we never thought this could happen to us” makes it all worthwhile. And I can do that because I’ve already renegotiated that proverbial photocopying contract. I’ve already made effective efficiency savings in back office functions. My school is already a well-oiled machine.

But now, this year, I’ve written a budget to get by. To just about get by. I’ve got to tell HoDs that the bidding process won’t happen this year, that they’ve got to plan their curriculum delivery by costing pencils and photocopying, that this year we won’t be able to refurbish the changing rooms, to redesign the art rooms to ensure they meet the new curriculum; this year we won’t re carpet the staff room, replace the oldest server or the laptops that are at the end of their life. For the first time ever, I won’t be able to deliver the things the Student Council have asked for. This year, I just hope we’ll be able to pay the phone bill.

The NASBM standard SBM job description says I should be doing this:

The School Business Manager promotes the highest standards of business ethos …and strategically ensures the most effective use of resources in support of the school’s learning objectives.

I will not have met this element of the role this year, as I’ll have to enforce Poundshop purchasing and my deny all requests involving any sort of innovation and exploration.

I’m supposed to:

  • Plan and manage change in accordance with the school development/strategic plan.
  • Nope, not going to meet that one either. There will be no change, no development, just firefighting and eeking out.
  • Use the agreed budget to actively monitor and control performance to achieve value for money

Ah, Value for Money, my old friend. Remember when we agreed to not always go for the cheapest option, but instead to look for longer term sustainability and planned preventative strategies? Let’s put a big red X next to that one too then.

  • Propose revisions to the budget if necessary, in response to significant or unforeseen developments
  • I have no contingency in my budget this year. None. If anything unforeseen happens, we’re pretty much screwed.
  • Select types of investments which are appropriate for the school, taking account of risks, views of stakeholders and identify possible and suitable providers in order to maximise return.

Investments! Remember those? Haha!

  • Evaluate the school’s strategic objectives and obtain information for workforce planning. Identify the types of skills, knowledge, understanding and experience required to undertake existing and future planned activities

So staff development then? Creating new opportunities for staff? CPD? Investing in people? Nurturing talent? Not this year. It’s basically about hoping the right people leave at the right time. And if they don’t? Then workforce planning takes a different turn.

  • Follow sound practices in estate management and grounds maintenance

This year I ripped up my PPM plan and instead we’re just going to do nothing and hope the roof stays sound. I may have to buy some more buckets to collect the rain, but I can buy them from the Poundshop (see prev.), I have the catalogue after all.

So basically, I’ve failed to deliver several large chunks of my job before I’ve even started, and for a Business Manager who prides themselves on providing exceptional support to my Head and to my school, I have to face the fact that this year, I’ll let them down. There’s a lot of very valid media discussion about teacher stress and retention, but do spare a thought for the School Business professionals, who are busily robbing Peter, but who also know that Paul doesn’t stand much of a chance of being paid either.

Previous governments invested adequate money in developing our profession, promoting the CSBM, DSBM and ADBSM courses and we now have a national band of highly skilled professionals capable of delivering and developing educational provisions in increasingly complex settings. We have already made those efficiency savings. We have already trimmed the fat from our staffing structures. We know how to run cost effective schools - please allow us to carry on doing so by funding us at an adequate level.

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