The DfE’s ‘Review of efficiency in the schools system’, published in 2013, states that the employment of a high-quality school business manager (SBM) can enable schools to save significant amounts of money, especially if the SBM occupies a leadership role in the school.
SBMs have become increasingly important to senior leadership teams (SLTs) over the last decade, with many taking on a leadership role or working across a number of schools to deliver their skills and expertise.
As an SBM, you are at the frontline of driving efficiencies in schools in an ever-changing financial landscape. This guidance document outlines some approaches that an SBM can take towards financial planning, highlighting the importance of advising the SLT and governing body based on their skills and knowledge.
SBM professionals often have a wide range of continuously developing roles and responsibilities within a school, and a large part of their role is intrinsically linked to school finances. A large chunk of a school’s financial planning is often delegated to the SBM by the headteacher or governing body. Responsibilities of the SBM depend on the school’s circumstances, but preparing and monitoring budgets, creating a strategic financial plan linking the budget to school priorities, and generating ideas to maximise school income are often standard tasks assigned to the SBM.
Even though SBMs often take the lead on financial planning, they should ensure that their SLT and governing body are kept informed about the financial state of the school, including how the current budget is affecting the school and any factors that are likely to affect future financial plans.
If you are part of the SLT as an SBM, make sure that all leadership meetings contain an item that discusses or reviews school finances, ensuring that the SLT remains up-to-date and offering other leaders a chance to offer their thoughts. If you are not part of the SLT, make sure that before leadership meetings, you brief the headteacher on school finances so that they can then report to the rest of SLT.
The National College for Teaching and Leadership’s ‘School business management competency framework’ (2014) states that a professional attribute of an SBM is ensuring “that organisational and strategic financial planning support the purpose, values and vision of the school/academy”.
When planning finances, especially when preparing the budget, SBMs should ensure that the school’s priorities and aims are at the forefront of the plans; make sure you read the school development or improvement plan to familiarise yourself with these priorities so that the budget can reflect these. During discussions of financial plans with the wider leadership team, bring all discussions back to how the plans link to the school development or improvement plan, and how school funds will be used to deliver a budget which both reflects value for money while supporting school aims and an effective delivery of education.
Ensure that when you are given the chance to report on school finances, you provide strategic advice to the leadership team, rather than just reporting on the current state of the budget. Keep records of how the school is performing under the current budget, as well as information about factors that are likely to affect future budgets, such as pupil forecasts and national funding allocations. Go to leadership meetings with this information in order to steer the direction of strategic discussion and offer advice on how the budget can be amended, and where efficiencies can be made, to reflect the changing financial circumstances.
Use your skills and knowledge effectively
Most SBMs either have a background in finance or a strong understanding of the financial sector, meaning that schools are offered knowledge and expertise that they may otherwise miss out on, so it is imperative that this knowledge is used effectively.
It is likely that SBMs will be able to identify some financial pressures that schools may face earlier than other members of staff – it is vital that this information is communicated to the rest of the SLT, allowing the school more time to enact changes.
Evaluate and analyse the risk that some financial decisions may have on the school, e.g. implementing a school-wide refurbishment, and then present the risk analysis to the rest of the SLT, enabling appropriate decisions and actions to be taken.
SBMs should use their entrepreneurial skills to generate ideas of additional income for the school that may not have already been considered, such as letting out the school building to an organisation to hold a conference. TheSchoolBus’ guidance documents, Hiring Out School Facilities, Strategic and Holistic Income Generation, and Maximising Income Using the School Site offer good practice advice for maximising income generation, and the Letting School Risk Assessment explores the different control measures which can be implemented to address risks associated with letting school premises.
In times of financial unrest and funding pressures, SBMs should look to make innovative decisions during financial planning. This could involve presenting ideas for income generation that have not been considered before, as described above, or challenging ‘protected budgets’ within the school, i.e. budget allocations that are rolled forward year-on-year because ‘that’s what has always been done’.
As non-teaching members of staff, SBMs have the unique standpoint of being able to take a more objective view of financial planning with little bias towards specific budget allocations, making it easier to challenge any protected budgets and offer innovative suggestions for where this funding could be better spent.
SBMs should also strive to develop an innovative culture within the SLT and the wider school workforce. SBMs should deploy a variety of methods in order to encourage innovative financial planning ideas and there should be a monitoring system in place to measure the impact of these decisions. If innovative ideas are seen to have a positive impact on school finances, and this is communicated to the rest of the school workforce, members of staff may feel more comfortable to present their own ideas.
Any ideas put forth by other members of staff should be encouraged and then developed by the SBM into a fully formed plan which outlines how the idea can be implemented into the school’s financial plans, and how it will impact the strategic direction of the school.
Developing this culture of innovation widens the pool of ideas for efficiencies in financial planning, and takes some of the pressure off the SBM to deliver all of these ideas.
The SBM profession is made up of a group of people with wide-ranging skills; consider networking with other SBMs in order to share good practice advice, you might pick up tips for further efficiency in your school’s financial planning, and might be able to offer advice to other SBMs.
Networking can be done on a local level by contacting other SBMs in your area; on a national level, there are a variety of different networking events that can be accessed by SBMs which enable you to build relationships and share good practice, e.g. the National Association of School Business Managers offer a variety of events for SBMs.
DfE (2013) ‘Review of efficiency in the schools system’
EFA (2016) ‘The role of the school business manager’ <https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-role-of-the-school-business-manager> [Accessed: 10 April 2017]
Lorraine Hill (2016) ‘The ever-changing role of the school business manager’ <http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/resources/blog/ever-changing-role-school-business-manager> [Accessed: 10 April 2017]
National Association of School Business Management (2009) ‘School Business Manager Job Description’
National College for Teaching and Leadership (2014) ‘School business management competency framework’
TES (2016) ‘“Keep computers on all day and don’t let teachers buy supplies” – 10 ways for schools to save money’ <https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/keep-computers-all-day-and-dont-let-teachers-buy-supplies-10-ways> [Accessed: 10 April 2017]