From taking assemblies to sharing your professional expertise, there are many ways for business managers to raise the profile of their work. Paul Ainsworth and Josephine Smith explain how to make a bigger contribution and climb the career ladder at the same time
IN THREE PREVIOUS articles in School Financial Management, we have discussed opportunities that would prepare a school business manager or bursar for even more senior leadership roles in schools. There has been a focus upon building knowledge of teaching and learning, among other things. We also suggested that a greater involvement in the working of the school more generally will make any school business manager or bursar more effective in their current role. Successful leaders have one universal attribute and that is the presence of the charisma that is essential to lead staff and children. The days of the ‘heroic leader’, who stands upon a stage in a gown and through the force of their personality inspires or disciplines a whole school, has passed. However, the school community will still expect leaders – especially headteachers – to possess gravitas so that students, parents and staff stop and listen when they speak. A school business manager/bursar may have no intention of becoming a more senior leader and in such circumstances may suggest that they have no wish to build their profile in a school. In recent years, however, school business managers have generally become members of the school leadership team and the more people on that team who can deputise for the headteacher, thereby increasing the capacity of the team and in turn reducing the pressure on other colleagues, the better. In this article we consider ways of raising one’s own profile as a school business manager/bursar in order to rise to this challenge more effectively. Many of these actions will also enable you to increase your understanding of the workings of a school and the impact on other people in the organisation of your own and other people’s actions.
Raising your profile
As a school leader you will inevitably have differing levels of contact with key stakeholders: staff, students, parents and governors. While it may not have occurred to you that direct student contact is part of your role, working with students will allow you to place your financial decisions and strategies into context. In the last two articles the process of school evaluation has been explained, including the roles a school business manager can undertake. Students are very aware of the hierarchies that operate in their school and will immediately recognise that if you are observing lessons or undertaking student focus groups then this means you have seniority in the organisation. Their first response to you outside of the classroom will often then be similar to how they relate to the teaching members of the senior leadership team. ‘While it may not have occurred to you that direct student contact is part of your role, working with students will allow you to place your financial decisions and strategies into context’
Another simple act to increase your status is to consider the dress code of the senior managers. It is surprising the effect a man’s smart dark suit will have. A mature teaching student who always wore conservative garb once trained with one of us. The students were convinced he was an adviser and hence their behaviour was often better than his teaching deserved. For women it can be more complicated and caution is recommended. Take care to avoid items that could be too revealing, when sat on stages or ascending stairs for example, or that would distract students from the message you really wish to communicate.
One of the best ways of increasing your profile is in taking whole-school assemblies. Most senior leadership teams share these out as it is beneficial to have a variety of voices sharing their views with the students. Schools may have themed assembly weeks and a quick search of the internet will reveal a host of pre-prepared presentations. The best assemblies are always personal; you could personalise a ready-written resource with a short anecdote or even use these stimuli to write your own material. Paul’s first assemblies were generally based around newspaper articles or sections from books which he placed into a personal context. Assemblies are a particularly rewarding part of the role and it is always pleasantly surprising to receive the support and comments of the teaching staff after such an event. When Paul first became a senior manager through an internal promotion, it wasn’t the title that changed how students responded to him, it was sitting on the stage with the headteacher. Then, when he dealt with disciplinary issues in other colleagues’ lessons and at lunch and break times, students treated him with increased respect.
Get involved at lunchtime
One area that a senior leadership team will be relieved to have your support on is in managing the behaviour of students at break and lunchtimes. Schools do have lunchtime supervisors but their role is only as effective as the support given by the senior leadership team. Being recognised by students as a senior leader will help you in this often trying role. From your own perspective, many school business managers line manage lunchtime supervisors and by actively engaging with them in their duties you will be in a far better position to gauge their perspectives and recognise their training needs. In many primary schools lunchtime supervisors are being trained as play leaders and we know of one business manager who attended the training with her staff. She was then very aware of how their role could develop beyond the historical one. Another person took the lead in changing their supervisors’ duties due to poor behaviour of students at lunchtime. As a result the behaviour of students improved and the supervisors were happier in their roles, thereby improving staff retention. A further benefit to you is in seeing the school site being used in a different way. These different viewpoints will then aid you if you have a health and safety responsibility. Many of the health and safety incidents arise when the student body is moving around the school and the bulk of this movement occurs at break and lunchtime. These issues are amplified on wet and wintry days.
Be at events
When the school hosts events such as productions and concerts there has to be a senior leadership presence. It is very helpful if the responsibility for presenting a vote of thanks at the end of each night of the production can be shared out. It is of course a tiring activity to be involved in at the end of the working day, but it is such nights that can give you a real sense of the school community, a positive glow of student achievement and a realisation of what everyone is working for.
Use your professional expertise
You also have professional expertise that students for sure could benefit from – especially in secondary schools. Students respect the specialist knowledge of their teachers and are often inspired by someone who ‘knows their stuff!’ One way to do this is to lead student involvement in financial decision making. By allowing and encouraging the ‘student voice’ you are contributing to the Every Child Matters agenda of your school and enabling students legitimately to work towards their own economic wellbeing, as well as encouraging enterprise or business skills, something that is being given increasing curriculum time in schools. Many structures probably already exist in your school to do this. A student council made up of representatives from each school year or class exists in most schools. At council meetings you will regularly find students who have strong opinions about how the school can be improved, but a very limited understanding of budgetary constraints or the scale of costs. By chairing these meetings or regularly attending them as an adviser, perhaps you could instil in students an understanding of budgeting or the cost of resources? As representative council members will take back information to their peers about the costs of maintenance or the unnecessary costs of repairing damage, for example, financial responsibility is something you can help students to understand while potentially reducing some of your frustrations. ‘At council meetings you will regularly find students who have strong opinions about how the school can be improved. Perhaps you could instil in students an understanding of budgeting or the cost of resources’ Environmentally aware students in one school were horrified to discover the huge utility bills at their school and worked hard as a council, under the guidance of the business manager, to produce laminated cards aimed at reducing costs and reducing wasted energy. The cards were placed above the light switch in every classroom, reminding everyone to take responsibility for saving energy by switching PCs off, closing windows and tidying their own rubbish away. Student council reps spoke in assembly about environmental awareness and reducing school costs. If you chaired the council meetings perhaps you could also invite student members to become involved in other financial decisions, for example allowing them to shadow the school budgeting process in a special annual meeting. You could even give the council a modest real budget to oversee, giving more than lip service to the notion of student voice. You will find these students to be willing and eager participants. Perhaps you might even develop this idea to provide leadership opportunities for older students to attend governor finance sub-committees and represent the student view? If you wanted to extend your profile beyond the keen, self-motivated students of the student council you might also offer your expertise during curriculum time. This could include making a guest appearance in enterprise, citizenship or PHSE lessons for example. You could give advice to Year 13 students in pastoral sessions on budgeting at university or being financially responsible and living independently. Perhaps you could deliver sessions in general studies lessons as part of Year 12/13 exam preparation on the economy. Students will value your knowledge and often remember sessions led by, or team taught by, someone other than their usual timetabled teacher. Lower down the school, or in primaries, you could introduce students to currency or basic budgeting.
Many schools run a Young Enterprise Company (www.young-enterprise.org.uk) and there is no reason why you can’t lead this initiative or provide advice for students as they set up a real company and try to make a profit for their shareholders. The introduction, in September 2005, of schools funding for enterprise education at Key Stage 4 created an opportunity for schools to engender knowledge, skills and attributes for business, enterprise and the world of work in their students. The Department for Children, Schools and Families defines enterprise education as consisting of enterprise capability, supported by better financial capability and economic and business understanding. Ofsted identifies two other key elements: an enterprising learning environment in which students are encouraged to take the initiative; and an enterprise process which is akin to project working. Enterprise is also a key element of work-related learning, which is statutory at Key Stage 4. By working with volunteers from local businesses you can help students realise their enterprise and financial capability, as well as develop general business and economic understanding, while at the same time working closely with students in school.
Other extra-curricular opportunities
Many schools across the age range run enterprise opportunities in extra-curricular time and it is here too that you could become actively involved in the life of the school. You probably work in a school where the timetable is periodically collapsed in order to deliver special curricular or themed days. Many schools deliver enterprise skills in this way but other foci such as study skills, performing arts or European days might use this ‘off timetable’ time for students. The experiences are usually very popular and students respond well to the break from routine. Extra staff prove handy too and you might consider playing an active part in such a day. A school business manager, who judges student teams’ sales pitches, assesses the success of a marketing strategy or is available as an adviser for students to ‘buy’ expert advice from is well received by staff organisers and students alike. Such a role wouldn’t take you away from your core business for long but would certainly allow you to contribute productively to valuable learning opportunities in a school. Leaving aside your professional expertise and interests, you may also wish to contribute to the after-school clubs and extra-curricular opportunities that parents identify as a major aspect of a good school. Whether you have a sporting interest and take on the coaching of one of the school teams, have a hobby you can share with students or simply use your own contacts to encourage external providers to come into the school to enrich the leisure time of students, you may welcome your involvement as an opportunity to leave your desk for an hour and share an interest with students during working hours. You will also be contributing to a programme that many of your colleagues are participating in, hence building that sense among staff that you are happy to lead by example and not an office-bound administrator who makes whole-school policy and decisions but doesn’t see the effect they have on the ground.
Sample trips and visits
In some schools the subject of students going on educational visits during the day can be very contentious. In secondary schools this is not only as a result of students missing lessons but also due to the disruption caused to other students when their teachers are absent from lessons to take the trip. In primary schools the number of adults required for supervision can itself make trips problematic. Many schools expect support staff to help on such occasions but the business manager could be even more important. For the teacher leading the trip they can feel reassured to have a member of the senior leadership team on the trip in case of any difficulties. In most schools the paperwork for trips is administered by support staff and the educational visits coordinator’s role is often taken by support staff if not by you. It is only by attending a trip that you can fully determine how effective this organisation has been, or if the administration process needs changing and improving.
Finally, the smooth running of external examinations can be a very stressful time in a school calendar. The aim is to move the students into the examination room in good order to keep the probity of examination regulations. The paperwork involved in examination entries is often complicated and it is vital it is conducted accurately. In most schools this role is now taken by a member of the support staff. By being available and present on these occasions you can assist in the logistics of student movement and organisation. You will also be able to make a valid judgement on whether your examination officer is performing their function properly as opposed to receiving negative feedback from teachers on occasions where there may have been problems.
Have a bit of fun!
On a light-hearted note there is one way to make yourself enduringly popular with the students you work with and that is to take part in any charity day or fundraising events. If you are not brave enough to have your head shaved for Comic Relief you might like to take part in more sober celebrations! Whatever your involvement, students and staff will value your contribution to the school as a community.
In conclusion we have tried to show in this article that the school business manager/bursar has a vital role in assisting the overall leadership of the school. Building your profile in a school is all about creating a presence. It is about developing an appreciation among staff, students and parents that you have an expertise that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the school, which contributes to the improvement and progress of the school. If you build your profile you will find that students respond to you with added respect which then gives your interventions more power. Schools are environments in which different stakeholders value very different skills, but all those stakeholders will appreciate your contribution to the school as a community. There are many functions that senior leaders perform which are outside their specialist skills base. Instead they are the roles and responsibilities of the team and if everyone is involved it takes away some of the pressure. If you bring the right balance of leadership skills, knowledge, professionalism and also a sense that you like young people and are working hard for their future success, then your regard on the school leadership team is assured. As well as supporting your colleagues, your own function will become ever more effective. In addition, if you do harbour ambitions of becoming one of the first non-teacher school leaders these learning experiences are crucial.
Paul Ainsworth is the deputy headteacher at Belvoir High School, a 10-14 school located in north Leicestershire. Josephine Smith is the director of Key Stage 4 at Casterton Business and Enterprise College, an 11-16 school in Rutland.