I used to work in the Local Authority in a department within Children’s Services/Education. I was Deputy Head of service for the last 7 years that I was there. I was very comfortable in my role, confident in my abilities to manage the operations and I had the most wonderful colleagues that had come to be my friends (and still are).
The Head of Service was great too. He’d given me the right mix of autonomy and guidance that I needed over the years to develop as a manager. There was no reason for me leave this great job, I had no complaints at all. All except one thing. I had long felt the lure of this elusive role of the School Business Manager. Everyone I spoke to thought it would be a great step for me and would bring together my skills, experience and qualifications.
At uni I studied HR and Business Law and then later went on to do a Postgraduate Diploma in HR which earned me the CIPD certification. I also had 8 years of experience working in payroll so had quite an aptitude for “numbers”. Alongside that I was a governor in a local primary school. This actually turned out to be the most useful experience of all. I had often looked at adverts for SBM roles and thought “I could do that” but never quite had the courage to apply. Then one day I went for it. A secondary school in a north London borough advertised for an SBM. I put together an application and submitted it. I was invited to interview. The nerves got the better of me and I called to withdraw my application. Why did I do that? I just wasn’t brave enough.
A little after that a secondary school in my own borough was looking for an SBM so I went for it again. I submitted and application, was invited to interview and to my horror was asked to prepare a presentation on what I would do in my first 100 days. Now this was far out of the comfort zone of an introvert like me but I set my mind to do it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?
I went along to the interview. There were four of us being interviewed and we were put in a room together to complete in tray exercises – it felt a bit like being back at school sitting an exam. Then one by one we were called away to deliver our presentations, leaving the other 3 applicants to chat. I learned that two of the applicants had worked in schools for quite a long time and the other was working in the city but wanted to move to a role where he could take things easier(!) Well, my turn came and I painted on a smile a delivered my presentation (at what felt like 100 miles an hour but they asked sensible questions at the end so clearly were able to keep up).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I didn’t get the job (it went to the man from the city). Some of the feedback I’d received was that I’d presented well (fancy that!) and interviewed well but seemed a little under informed about the scope of the role. I was disappointed but I believe everything happens for a reason. I made notes of the feedback and filed them away with my application.
Fast forward to today and I am now an SBM in a two form entry primary school. How did I make that leap? I took myself off to get the relevant qualification. This was invaluable in giving me a proper understanding of the role and what it entailed. I also spoke to people doing the role already and picked up some really useful tips. I started as an SBM in December 2015, a few weeks before Christmas. The previous SBM had left in the summer so I didn’t have a conventional handover but she’d left great notes and a colleague from a local school was able to come in once a week to train me on using the finance system. I had to hit the ground running but I felt happy. I was finally doing the role I wanted. I was on a quest to gather as much knowledge as possible and be the best business manager I could be.
Let me tell you – you have no idea how huge the role is until you are doing it. My new role had the responsibility of HR/Payroll, Finance, Premises, Health & Safety, Admin and IT. Some of these areas I was able to pick up without too much problem but others were brand new to me and I embarked on a steep learning curve. After 15 months I moved on to my current school. It works hugely in my favour that I am bringing my experience of my first school with me. It has also brought home the fact that there is still so much to learn and I need to make a commitment to CPD to carry out the role well.
So here I am – SBM in my current school for the last 18 months. I’m doing it! Or am I? Well, yes, I am doing it but what I have realised is that becoming an SBM is not the final destination I was trying to get to but actually it’s the start of a journey. After nearly 3 years as an SBM I feel very much still at the start of the journey but I’m excited about where the path will take me.
I’m continuously learning and constantly sharpening my practice. I read a lot of professional books and publications and lots of networking on Twitter (perhaps the most useful thing of all). #SBLTwitter has exploded in recent times. It’s my go-to place to pick the brains of other SBMs for advice or to compare notes. Some have been doing the job for years and some are at a similar stage in the journey as me. I can’t imagine not having such a resource at my fingertips. If you’re not already on Twitter I urge you to sign up – it’s great!
I often think back to that candidate who I was up against who wanted to become an SBM for an “easier life”. Would it surprise you to know that he’s no longer an SBM? 😉