The Certificate of School Business Management is fast becoming an essential qualification for all school finance staff. But what is the course actually like from a delegate’s perspective? SFM asked a recent delegate to share her views

Friday 24 February 2006 – there’s a letter from Serco Learning in the post which will tell me whether I have passed or failed the Certificate in School Business Management Course, but I’m afraid to open it!

I was persuaded to start this course by my headteacher, who has more faith in me than I have myself. We are about to become a children’s centre and the knowledge gained from the course should benefit the school as well as my personal professional development.

Last May I set off for the first two-day residential (there are three in all), absolutely terrified of what I was letting myself in for. Fortunately, I had contacted another candidate and we had agreed to travel together – there’s safety in numbers.

The training begins

There were 24 of us all together and it was nice to see that most of the group felt apprehensive. I have to say they were a nice bunch of people and we did have some fun. In all, the two days went well, although it was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions, swinging from ‘Yes, I can do this’ to ‘My God, how will I get though this and where will I find the time?’ None of us were aware that you graduate from this course (assuming you pass it, of course).

I went home from that first residential and shoved all the books in a cupboard to try to forget about it. After a week I realised that I had started this so I had better get on and try to do the work. Dropping out came at a price, so it wasn’t an option and I certainly wasn’t prepared to pay to fail.

It’s been a long, long time since I did any serious studying but once I got under way I generally found the coursework quite easy and quickly found a working pattern and time to fit it around school life and running a home. I managed to meet all the deadlines and by the time I got to the last residential, I was actually ahead.

The CSBM course

There are seven modules to the course:

  • ICT management
  • risk management
  • human resources
  • facilities
  • office systems
  • finance environmental management (which was new and optional for my cohort).

The starting point for each module is a diagnostic exercise which shows how much you know, or more to the point, don’t know! Repeating this exercise again at the end of the course is great for your self-confidence, when you realise that you have gained a lot along the way.

  • For each module, along with reading material there is the following:
  • an online workbook and an online test
  • a set of activities to complete (the number varies between modules)
  • ‘entries’, which are basically questions based on the module. Two entries have to be completed, each being 250 words
  • a summary of learning in no more than 600 words – this details where you were when you started and where you are now, the knowledge gained and a reflection on the whole module.

There is an awful lot of reflecting in this course and, depending on your personality, you love or loathe it. Personally I liked it but I know some found it hard.

I can honestly say that for every module there was a great deal I didn’t know (even though I have been working in school for about 15 years). I will certainly keep all the coursework folders to use as reference in the future.

Apart from the modules there is the School Business Management (SBM) section. A lot of this is covered during the residentials, and includes:

  • learning styles
  • urgency addition
  • professional role analysis
  • personal development plan
  • presentation skills
  • negotiation skills
  • process mapping
  • problem solving
  • reflection on the whole programme.

They start you off very gently; the first thing to do is write about your school and your role, which is easy – we can all do that. It’s uphill after that.

The case study

You could be forgiven for thinking all the above was enough, but on top of it there is a case study to produce, amounting to 3,500 words. Mine was on in house cleaning but it could be on any aspect of school. This was to be the basis of the ten-minute presentation at my assessment.

The case study is broken down as follows:

An executive summary

  • an explanation of the school’s situation
  • why the project is important to the school
  • how the project was carried out
  • an explanation of what was achieved.

An academic commentary

  • how the project links with the SBM competences
  • responsibility areas you have focused on in managing the project and how skills have been developed
  • professional judgement used to inform decision-making
  • reading and research.

An assessable report

  • the context of the project
  • main objectives
  • project plan
  • collection of information for projectplanning
  • the implementation of the project
  • outcome, conclusions and evaluation.

The learning process

Although this is distance learning, you are not alone. Through the National College for School Leadership website you access ‘talk2learn’, a way of communicating with the rest of your group and other groups around the country. This is a big part of the course and when being assessed you must have evidence of online communication.

I’m afraid I became addicted to it and abandoned my family for the computer for hours at a time, even on Christmas Eve! There is so much you can learn from talking to other people in other schools. It’s wonderful to share information and look at other people’s policy documents or procedure notes.

There are also ‘hotseats’, discussions on particular issues such as extended schools, behaviour and the new white paper. To begin with I was very self conscious of giving my opinions alongside headteachers and other experts, but once I had done it a couple of times my confidence grew. Also, of course, you have a tutor to submit some of the work to for feedback.

‘Time flies when you’re having fun’

The last residential was upon us in no time and was probably the most enjoyable. There were 20 of us left, and although we had only spent six days together in total, I felt I was saying goodbye to good friends and it felt quite strange to think we would probably not meet again. This was the only time that I felt alone. No more residentials but still a lot more work to do.

Preparing for assessment

Getting the work together in the right order to submit for assessment was frustrating. There were a lot of conflicting instructions to start with and some of the emails confirming what to do seemed to make things worse! Talk2learn was full of questions about what to include and not include and where to put it. The work had to be submitted electronically, through the virtual learning environment. There were times when I thought that preparing for assessment was a course in itself. I managed it in the end and was very pleased when I received the email confirming that my work had arrived.

There was nothing to do now but wait.


My assessment day was 6 February at the Comfort Inn in Reading – time to panic again. Assessment consists of a 30-minute interview and a 10-minute presentation on your case study. I was dreading the presentation – standing up and talking in front of people again.

The interview consists of a list of standardised questions under the 10 competencies of the SBM, which are:

  • leadership
  • strategy
  • analysis
  • ethics
  • project management
  • resource management
  • collaboration
  • team working
  • communication
  • professional development.

There are no trick questions. The assessor is just trying to find evidence of your knowledge. They are looking for what you know not what you don’t know.

The 30 minutes pass in no time and then it’s the dreaded presentation! This consists of ten minutes on the case study project in front of two assessors and three other candidates. You know the project like the back of your hand but it is still nerve-racking and the longest ten minutes I have ever spent.


I have gained immensely from participating in this programme, both professionally and personally. My outlook on life and the way I deal with situations has changed. My school has also greatly benefited from the knowledge and confidence that I have gained over the last ten months. My only regret is that I did not do something like this 10 years ago.

The role of the headteacher is a very demanding one and I am pleased to be able to take over some of my head’s responsibilities and she has the confidence in me to do this. Under the workforce restructuring I have become a member of the senior management team and now line manage the facilities and catering staff as well as our admin people. These are all things that I would not have felt comfortable with before. This programme has, of course, greatly helped my professional development and I will probably go on to more training, possibly the Diploma in School Business Management, although it has also given me ideas of other areas I would like to develop.

I have come to realise that the business manager role is a vitally important one in a school and that I have a key part to play, not only in the day-to-day running of the school, but in helping to shape its future. I participate more at staff meetings and I am willing to share my views, comments and/or concerns about any aspect of the organisation of the school.

I never thought, in the early stages, that I would say I enjoyed the course, but I have. It was hard work and very timeconsuming but I have gained so much and made some good friends along the way. I would highly recommend this course to any administrator in the school environment. No matter how much you think you already know, I can assure you that you will learn a lot more.

I started off wondering how I would find the time to complete all the work, now I’m looking for something else to fill the time.