With an increasing number of schools placing business managers on the senior leadership team, Lindsey Lester offers some of her own experience to others who are about to embark on this role

I have been a business manager in my present school for 18 months, and this represented my first experience of being a member of the senior leadership team. The transition to becoming a fully blown member of the leadership team in any school can be a difficult one, and this article provides some guidance for those who are readying themselves for the challenge.

Understanding the SLT
The SLT membership at my own school consisted of headteacher, deputy headteacher, two assistant headteachers and myself, the business manager. I must admit that my first meeting was a bit daunting, but, thankfully, the rest of the team were very supportive and I soon felt relaxed in their company. But what is the SLT about? In my opinion it includes the following:

  • Implementing the overall strategic direction, as identified by the governing body.
  • Leading initiatives in the school.
  • Setting policies, exploring innovative ideas, resource sharing and best practice.
  • Monitoring of the progress of strategic initiatives and the impact of these on teaching and learning and the development of staff.
  • Discussion of ideas and opinions brought to the SLT by teaching staff, support staff and the ‘student voice’. These will then be explored and data collected before a decision is made.

Maintaining good relationships with the support and teaching staff is invaluable as, between them, they hold a wealth of information that can help you to support them in the enhancement of the students’ education, and will also enable you to contribute effectively within the SLT. St Martin’s keeps a folder in the staffroom, where all minutes of the SLT and other school meetings are filed, so that staff have an understanding of what is being discussed and agreed. It is also important that the staff know what the SLT actually does, as the decisions that are being made within the team have a direct impact on the standards of their work and school attainment. Never assume that your staff know what you are doing, or what decisions you have made. Hold regular meetings and inform them of key issues that have arisen and any outcomes.

As an SLT member I make a major contribution to the governors’ finance committee and to discussions and decisions on the staffing committee. Occasionally, I also attend other committee meetings, as part of my role is to advise governors on the policy needed to comply with legislation concerning employment protection, health and safety, and so on, and the implementation of these policies in school.

Change is inevitable and it is never easy to manage. As a member of the SLT, it is necessary to have the skills to manage any instability and uncertainty that may occur. As business manager, you will develop those skills, by:

  • being reflective and understanding the impact that change can have on others. This way you will be able to support your staff and take them forward in a positive way
  • being professional and approachable (in other words be the person you were before you joined the SLT)
  • recommending and discussing new initiatives that will instigate major changes
  • being prepared to accept the lead role for initiatives
  • being assertive and strong enough to clarify your reasonings and judgements to your staff and fellow SLT members.

Sharing of duties
I have responsibilities for ‘on call’ duty (responsibility for students when removed from the classroom) and share lunchtime duties with the rest of the SLT. I must admit that my first ‘on call’ duty was an absolute failure – a young boy had been sent to me after being removed from the class for behaviour reasons. After his time with me, I heard him tell his friends, ‘It was the best on-call that I had ever had!’ All I did was sit down with him and talk about why he had been removed and gave him some work to do, so I’m not sure whether I should call it a compliment or put myself forward for training on behaviour management!

I have also been called upon, when other teaching members of the SLT are unavailable, for issues outside of my role (dare I mention the dreaded word ‘cover’), but as a member of SLT you take this in your stride. If you find yourself in this position remember:

  • Never promise anything to the students that you cannot deliver.
  • Stay calm.
  • Try to look professional and as if you know what you are doing.

Contributing to the SLT
As you become more experienced, you will find that one of the most important parts of your role as an SLT member is never to be afraid to question decisions that are being made, whether curriculum or business. Be bold and challenge your fellow leaders, if necessary. This may not be appreciated at first, but if you have ‘sound’ reasonings and can put your case forward professionally, you will become a respected member of the team. If you find that a strategy already agreed by the SLT is not working, do not be afraid to raise it as an agenda item and have it looked at again. Remember, change is never ending and continuous improvement is an important part of school life. Keep your notes – these are invaluable to you – and always ensure you receive a copy of the minutes if you miss a meeting.

Student voice
‘The student voice’ is an important part of St Martin’s culture. It is now a major influence in the education thinking of the school. Students see things from a different perspective. We believe that students should have a genuine influence on decision-making and be properly represented in school, as encouraging student participation is beneficial to both staff and students. Attending school council meetings is an excellent way of becoming involved with the ‘student voice’. I also walk around the school site with members of the school council to discuss any health and safety issues and what they would like to see happening at the school, especially with regards to buildings and resources they think would improve their learning and facilities. The students also give you an invaluable insight into how they see their classroom environment, which can sometimes be totally different to how staff see it.

I would like to see a student included in some SLT meetings. Obviously, due to the agenda content, it would not always be practical, but having a student member on the SLT will prove that we really do want their contribution to the decision-making of the school.

Raising the profile
I do feel that, in some schools, the business managers who are on the SLT are sometimes considered ‘a token member of staff’ and are not fully appreciated. Their opinions are only asked for when matters of finance, staffing or premises arise, and they are still considered as ‘admin staff’. This can be a difficult situation, but you will only change this if you take a leading role in raising the status of business managers within the school.

Behave like a leader, undertake leadership roles and responsibilities and contribute to discussions, then you will find that you will become a respected member of the team.

Being an SLT member isn’t easy and, while it can sometimes include extra responsibilities to take on board, it is enjoyable and very worthwhile. Remember that, as a member of the SLT, it is necessary to have an understanding of, and commitment to, education! Business managers have been working towards this recognition for a very long time.

I also believe that schools should be considering widening their SLT membership to other members of the staff. We have so many excellent middle leaders who have much to contribute. Let’s say the SLT has an agenda item under the heading ‘proposed feasibility study of new sports hall’. As an SLT we should be looking at who can contribute from the whole-school team. In this case, the sports coordinator’s attendance at future SLT meetings would be vital, as his/her input would enable the SLT to gain a further understanding of the future direction of the sports facilities required. The leader of extended schools services’ contribution would also be invaluable as they will be looking at the direction of the school from a different angle, concentrating on who can use the facilities, which will inevitably bring income into the school.

Final thoughts
I received tremendous support from my headteacher at St Martin’s, which is crucial in making the most of the role of business manager on the SLT. For those of you who have found nothing but resistance in becoming a member of the SLT, my advice is do not give up. If not your present school, there are schools out there which do want a dedicated business manager on their senior teams and realise what an invaluable member you are.

Lindsey Lester is business manager at St Martin’s Catholic School, Stoke Golding