Top Tips for new SBMs
Congratulations on your new appointment as a School Business Manager (or one of the many job titles for similar roles). There is a lot I could say to try and help you in your early days in the role. However, every SBM role (and school) is slightly different so I will try to stick to some general advice to start you off.
My first bit of advice is to get in touch with others in a similar role. Find out if there is a School Business Professional (SBP) Network group near to you and if so, join it. The DfE provide details of groups that they are aware of nationally at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/join-or-create-a-network-for-school-business-professionals/school-business-professional-networks-directory. This page also gives a link to sign up to a DfE SBP newsletter. Local groups are such a useful resource and their members are usually only too willing to offer help and advice. If there isn’t a group near you, get in contact with someone in a similar role to yours at another local school and introduce yourself. If you are working for a Local Authority school, find out if any support and advice is available from them. Whether you want to work jointly on a project, check when a return is due or just offload over a cup of coffee, you will find a number of people out there who are more than happy to help.
Keep up to date
Sign up to ESFA updates to keep up to date with report deadlines, ESFA news, etc. (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/skills-funding-agency-update). Legal and accountancy firms also sometimes offer free access to their newsletters which, especially if you find one that offers specific updates for the education sector, can provide useful reminders of deadlines or further explanations and summaries of government documents.
Take time to read through key policies and documentation to get a feel for how the school operates. Meet with the Head (and/or Chair of Governors) and find out what their priorities for the future are and where they can see areas for improvement which you could help with.
Get out and about
Take time to get to know the staff who work alongside you and what their priorities are. Who these people are will very much depend on the structure in your school and whether you are working in a small primary school or a large MAT. Don’t sit in isolation in your office. Make sure you get a break away from your desk. Go to the staffroom at lunchtime. Go for a walk round the school. It will remind you of the very important role you play in enabling those children to achieve to their best ability and enjoy their life at school. You’ll probably come back with a long list of things that need some action!
Take it steady
Don’t try and change too many things from day one – this will not make you popular. However, at the start of your role, you are in the ideal place to ask questions about why things are done in certain ways without striking fear into those around you who are terrified of and resistant to change. Often people don’t know the answer – “it’s just always been done that way”. Unless you spot something that potentially breaches legislation or is a complete waste of money, make a note of it and come back to it later. If you do want to make changes, make sure you tell a trusted colleague what you are thinking of doing and check if there is a logical, if not obvious reason for doing something in a certain way. There may be a very good reason why photocopies are on bright fluorescent paper!
Don’t get that sinking feeling
Do not be daunted by your ever growing ‘to do’ list, much of which was probably never mentioned at your interview, and do not feel that you ever have to complete it – I never have! The role of an SBM can bring a daily round of unexpected challenges, all of which are more important than anything you had carefully planned for your day. However, for me, it is those challenges that make the role exciting. Do not feel that you have to be an expert on everything that comes your way. Use your colleagues and other external resources where necessary. Check out the Institute of School Business Professionals website for advice and information on courses and conferences when you feel able to take that next step to fill your skills gap (www.isbl.org.uk).
Don’t reinvent the wheel
If you are asked to write a new policy for the school or you feel that one is missing, unless it is something that is very bespoke to your school, don’t try and write it from scratch. Check if your school is a member of organisations that provide model policy templates (The Key and The School Bus are two examples) or ask colleagues at other schools. Do remember to read through the policy though and adapt it to the situation in your school. No two schools are identical!
Believe in yourself
We can all feel overwhelmed at times and have periods of self-doubt, wondering if we are actually up to the job. The role can be huge and comes with great responsibility. Just remember that of all those people who applied for your role and after a no-doubt rigorous interview process, you were the one that the school decided had skills and attributes that most closely met their culture and needs. You can do this! Just take one step at a time.
A new role can be a very exciting time but I think it takes at least 6 months before things finally start to fall into place so don’t be downhearted if it can all seem a bit daunting at first. Use the knowledge of your colleagues and the resources available to you. Face each day with an open mind, calm authority and a professional attitude but don’t forget to enjoy your job and to laugh – listening to excuses for students arriving late can provide a lift to the start of the day!
Written by Rosemary Cotton - @SolihullSBM