The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Alex Masters

Academisation, NASBM and… motorbikes! Inspiration for SBMs

The future might be uncertain but it is a time of significant opportunity for school business managers, as a recent conference in east London proved.

It’s always thrilling to see so many school business managers together in one room. With such a time-pressured, demanding job, for many it can feel almost impossible to leave the office. 

But the recent School Business Managers’ 2016 Conference, organised by Sandy Tomlinson, business lead at the Vicarage Primary School in Newham, showed that such opportunities are invaluable to encourage SBMs to network, share their concerns and gain further insights and advice from experts in the field. 

From Brexit and the new funding formula to impending academisation, it’s not surprising that many are anxious about the future. ‘There’s a lot of uncertainty,’ said Sandy in her welcome speech. 'That will come home to us eventually. We need to be prepared.’ 

Indeed, talking to school business managers during the day, many shared their concerns for the future. No doubt some (or many) will sound familiar: ‘I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone!’; ‘I need to keep up to speed with all the constant changes’; 'I’m worried about additional responsibilities’; ‘There’s such a fog of information out there’ and ‘I’m worried about working across schools if we become a MAT.’ 

If you are feeling concerned about the future, especially when it comes to joining a MAT, do check out our upcoming conference, 'Establishing or Joining Multi-Academy Trusts' on 15 November 2016.

Opportunity in crisis 

Despite these concerns, the speakers showed how positivity, enthusiasm and a growth mindset can turn these challenges into opportunities. In her inspiring opening speech, consultant Nickii Messer explained that, while change is inevitable, we can see this as an opportunity 'to shape school business management'. 

She stressed the importance of explaining to the head, the rest of the SLT and all staff members what your role as an SBM really involves. Indeed, a lack of understanding of the role can be a key barrier to professional development. 'We are a profession! And we need to ensure we are professionally developed to senior leadership quality,' Nickii said. 'But many head teachers don't know what quality business management looks like!'

So how do we go about changing this? Nickii had a raft of suggestions. For one, she urged SBMs to use the new NASBM professional standards: these are a great way of self-assessing and finding key areas for progress, which can then be shown to the head – indeed one head teacher is currently using the NASBM standards to write a job description for a new business manager. 'This is our opportunity to shape school business management,' Nickii explained. 'NASBM gives us the framework to do that.'

Business managers also need to embrace new training opportunities, no matter how hard it may feel to leave the (ever-busy) office. 'If you're worried when you go on training, don't: the work will be there when you get back!' Nickii said, to much laughter. 

Another great idea is to include a slot in staff meetings where SBMs can actually explain to staff what they do. 'You need to explain. And if you have someone else's words [i.e. by using direct quotes from the NASBM standards] it doesn't get personal.'

She also recommended having INSET days for staff to train them on budgets etc. In terms of professional development, perhaps one of the hardest areas is reflective practice. 'We need to look at ourselves,' Nickii said. 'Self-assessment is hard! Be brave enough to ask each other: "Where do you see me?"' 


A lot of development and progress is down to self-belief. Nickii used the great analogy of a motorbike. When she was taking a proficiency test she fell off the bike (with the bike falling on top of her). Despite being covered in bruises and feeling defeated her instructor told her to try again and again. But each time the same thing happened: she kept failing. It was only when she went home and thought about it that night that she realised the problem: she kept focusing on the failure – and what she focused on was what she achieved. She went back the next day focusing on success and, guess what, she succeeded! 

As Sandy pointed out, it's also about resilience and showing this as an example to others. 'Our teams look to us and how we react to pressure and change. We need to look at the NASBM standards and think: "Is this what I'm displaying?"' Indeed, Sandy's resilience and enthusiasm is an example to us all and it's little wonder she received the NASBM 2015 award for Leading Support Services. 

And, of course, what puts it all in perspective is the children. 'Sometimes people forget that the pupils are at the centre of everything we do,' Nickii said. 'We have a responsibility to be the very best we can be for the children. They have one chance in their education.'

The rest of the day proved to be equally inspiring and packed with advice and information. Consultant Cate Hart gave a workshop on how SBMs can prepare for academisation and her expert advice helped alleviate many people’s concerns. Justin Smith shared some brilliant step-by-step advice on marketing and communicating for your school (including some clever tips on how to promote your school's key messages) and Janet Aldridge's workshop 'Getting the best from your support staff teams' involved some hands-on learning techniques on how to give effective feedback and deal with those difficult conversations. 

What an excellent, inspiring day. We're all very much looking forward to the next one. Watch this space!

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