There is value in building a working link between school governors and school business managers says Crispin Andrews, who strongly advises bringing them into the senior leadership team

School business managers can save up to 30% of headteachers’ time, substantially enhancing school capacity and improving the quality of teaching and learning.

According to the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) the importance of sound business management skills is widely accepted. The challenge now for governors and headteachers is to create a culture where the role of SBM is valued as a senior member of staff, rewarded financially and given the senior leadership responsibility it needs to have an impact.

National College for School Leadership advice to governors on school business managers

Consider making your SBM part of the senior leadership team
They will often be the only member of the SLT to come from a non-teaching background whose different, but complementary, perspective to planning activities ensures that the decision-making process is rigorous and robust.

Give your SBM a strategic role
Although SBMs can manage the day-to-day, logistical side of a 21st-century school, business managers are ideally placed to have a truly strategic role, drawing up multi-year financial plans and project-managing long-term programmes, such as the development of extended services.

Develop reporting processes
An SBM will have oversight of every aspect of running a school. They can give the board of governors the information it needs to understand the school’s progress and to inform its decision making. Work with the business manager to determine what information you would like, how it should be presented and how often it should be presented. The SBM will then be able to develop the necessary processes and dedicate time and resources to collecting data.

Make sure that your SBM has the appropriate skills and competence
NCSL research shows that a business manager will typically make back the cost of their training within 12 months through releasing existing funds and/or securing new revenue streams. The more skilled a business manager, the better the school can be run and the greater opportunity it will have to secure the very best outcomes for its pupils. Visit for details of the Certificate of School Business Management and the Diploma of School Business Management.

Encourage your headteacher to delegate tasks and distribute leadership
Some heads are understandably uneasy about delegating certain functions to a business manager. Governors should look to do what’s best for the school’s head and encourage them to delegate responsibilities that are unrelated to leading teaching and learning.

Speak to other schools
Meeting with other schools to discuss their deployment of an SBM is mutually beneficial. It can help spread best practice and potentially reveal new ways in which your SBM could be deployed, be they large (eg designing performance management systems for support staff) or small (eg turning the school’s reprographics facilities into a new source of revenue by performing printing work for local businesses). It can also set up lines of communication that could lead to further business management co-operation and integration, such as schools procuring and deploying resources in a more strategic manner.

A school business manager can support headteachers in dealing with the leadership, managerial and administrative complexities that confront them. Areas of responsibility can include strategic and operational management of finances, human resources and facilities, line management and the professional development of support staff, and marketing and communications. Most effective when they work in, or alongside, the school leadership team, SBMs are then able to understand what the school is trying to achieve for its students and discuss the most effective ways of supporting this.

Staff who take on the role may have other job titles including bursar, finance officer and senior administration officer. Some school SBMs work at both a strategic and an operational level, particularly in small primary schools where headteachers often have an operational responsibility too – teaching. Some highly skilled SBMs are now responsible for aspects of the strategic leadership of large and complex school organisations, including directing the work of other managerial and operational support staff.

Nick Allcoat, school business manger at Bramcote Hills Sport and Community College, came into the SBM role after a career in banking. ‘The greatest reward is helping to influence young people’s lives by providing an environment that enhances teaching and learning’, he says.

‘A key part of the role is spotting external funding opportunities and matching them to school improvement plans,’ continues Nick, who has over the past couple of years found funding to install cricket nets, purchase a new minibus and install a floodlit multi-use games area and BMX track.

In her capacity as senior clerk and administrator, Angela Warburton worked mainly on her own initiative at an operational level. Now, as the school manager at Billingham Campus in Stockton upon Tees, she has a more strategic role and her relationship with senior management has changed. ‘We work more collaboratively and the headteacher has given me increased managerial responsibility covering areas of administration, finance, premises, ICT and HR,’ she says. ‘I feel I can support him better than before due to increased knowledge and understanding of the structures and processes expected within school. The headteacher is happy for me to lead on issues where appropriate and disseminate information accordingly.’

Most recently, Angela has been involved in the school’s bid to develop a specialised PE block and refurbished technology block. The development will be open to the community and managed by the school as part of an extended school role. ‘I managed the planning for the refurbishment plus the reception,’ she continues. ‘This presented various challenges, including employing three new staff members and tackling problems such as the nightmare that is networks, computers and cabling.’

Over the past 10 years, schools have gained greater independence and funding is increasingly being devolved to school level. This means that schools have greater self-governance over their budgets and resources. School business managers can help put schools on a firmer footing by developing long-term financial plans, linked to the school improvement planning process. This is an essential element in achieving the Financial Management Standard in Schools (FMSiS), a requirement for all maintained schools.

In the main, headteachers want to lead teaching and learning yet their roles and responsibilities cover strategic leadership and management as well as daily operations. School business managers can take on or share other tasks and responsibilities, giving headteachers time to focus on their own area of expertise. This makes the role more attractive and increases the chances of recruiting and retaining high quality candidates.

David Moncaster, chair of governors at Great Waltham Church of England Primary School says: ‘For the school to continue to improve, the headteacher needs to be encouraging staff, observing them at work and making sure they’re getting the training they need. We have a strong SBM who is particularly confident in dealing with outside contractors.’

Diane Wilson, headteacher at Great Waltham, adds: ‘We have a fantastic school meals service and plans for a new outdoor classroom for foundation stage. The great thing is that now, not only do projects like this get started, they also get done.’

The rapidly increasing breadth of the education agenda, driven by initiatives such as Every Child Matters, extended schools and the Children’s Plan, has made the work of headteachers and senior leaders more complex and wide-ranging than ever. These initiatives, along with subject specific collaborative enterprises such as school sport partnerships and specialist schools’ outreach programmes, require schools to work in closer partnership with each other and an increasing range of external agencies. New school leadership strategies and structures must be found to meet these new challenges and in this SBM is crucial.

Schools must also employ and deploy an increasingly wide variety of support staff and SBMs are well placed to take on their leadership, development and performance management. They can also make an important contribution to developing integrated working through the extended services offered by schools. This includes developing and managing childcare facilities, after-school activities, parenting support, liaison with other agencies and specialist support services, ensuring wider community access to facilities and incorporating adult learning.

Research carried out by McKinsey’s for the National College for School Leadership concluded that, to have the desired impact on headteacher time, an SBM must be highly skilled and be working as part of the senior leadership team within their school. Opinion amongst headteachers surveyed was that the need for an SBM was becoming increasingly apparent, despite the reluctance of many governing bodies – particularly in smaller primary schools – to release the necessary funding. Some simply expect their headteacher and senior leadership team to muddle through. While 90% of secondary schools currently have a school business manager, only a third of primary schools have access to such a person.

One way of overcoming the financial burden is to share the services of an SBM between schools. The NCSL is currently working with the Training and Development Agency for Schools to pilot the roles of advanced school business manager (ASBM) and school business director (SBD) – highly qualified SBMs who will work strategically across a number of schools – in 24 areas over a period of 18 months.  These more senior roles are being supported by the development of an advanced diploma in school business management. Course materials are still being written but the NCSL envisages it as covering the following areas:

  • organisational transformation;
  • performance management;
  • programme management;
  • strategic financial management;
  • organisational leadership;
  • enabling teaching and learning.

The demonstration projects are exploring a range of issues, including how procurement can be spread over a number of schools, how business managers can assist schools’ leadership teams, and development of shared infrastructure.

ASBMs operate across small groups of primary schools, such as federations, clusters of two or three schools, or a single large school. Higher-level SBDs lead in larger groups of schools, such as federations, trusts and other formal partnerships, providing strategic business leadership.

Geoff Southworth OBE, deputy chief executive of NSCL says: ‘This initiative could open up the opportunity of every school having access to a highly skilled school business manager helping school leaders raise standards and secure the best possible outcomes for their pupils.’

Benefits of achieving the Certificate and the Diploma of School Business Management

A recent and ongoing independent evaluation study on the impact and effectiveness of the CSBM course found:

  • 84% of CSBM graduates believed their understanding of the strategic development of the school was better
  • 72% indicated they were having a high or significant impact on the strategic direction of their school
  • 92% reported that CSBM had had a positive impact on their ability to operate as a leader in schools

After going on to take the DSBM course:

  • 92.3% reported that DSBM had had an impact on their personal confidence
  • 80.8% saw an improvement in their technical knowledge
  • 88.5% reported a far improved understanding in schools
  • 92.3% reported an improvement in their ability to operate as a leader

Crispin Andrews is a freelance journalist who writes regularly on issues relating to school leadership.