The first six weeks

I’ve just completed exactly six weeks in my new role as Business Director in a large South London secondary school with almost 2000 pupils on roll. The school I was in immediately prior to this was a small primary with 275 on roll. You see the difference here?

I started my new role with a fair amount of trepidation mixed with a lot of self doubt. However, the first six weeks have flown by and each week I’ve learned something new

Week 1 – public speaking is not the end of the world and no amount of worrying about it beforehand will make any difference.

If you read my last blog you will know that on my very first day I had to speak in front of approximately 250 colleagues (strangers at that time) to introduce myself and talk about my plans for the year ahead. I was petrified but I had no choice but to get on with it. I did it and guess what? I was absolutely fine. Lesson 1 – I can do this and all the time I spent worrying was just wasted energy.

Week 2 – you think you know, but you have no idea.

Of course I approached this role fully expecting to learn new things but after nearly 4 years as an SBM I had a degree of confidence in various aspects of my knowledge. Having just left a school with a high proportion of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) I felt pretty secure in my knowledge of SEN funding. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Second week on the job and I was thrust into the world of SEN funding for designated specialist provisions, of which my school has 2. It turns out it’s much more complex than the regular EHCP funding I’ve been used to dealing with. I didn’t let that deter me and I sought advice from a special school SBMs. With a little help from my friends, I now understand the ins and outs of place funding, provision funding and top up funding. Thank goodness for that because I need to make sure we’re invoicing other boroughs for it as well as claiming it from our home borough.

Week 3 – with specialist provisions come specialist equipment.

One of the specialist provisions at my new school is a hearing impaired unit. I’m not sure I really thought about the implications of this in my previous life in a small primary school or even really when I joined this new school. However, a meeting in my third week completely opened my eyes to this. I learned that if we want to make sure that all our pupils have equality of opportunity we need to make appropriate adjustments. Adjustments that hadn’t even crossed my mind. In week 3 I was introduced to the equipment that each hearing impaired pupil uses on a daily basis to assist them in lessons, ensuring they can hear what is being taught. I was gobsmacked at the idea of individual pupils carrying equipment with them the whole day that is worth thousands of pounds but actually the process is quite seamless and it all gets returned at the end of the day in one piece. Job done!

Week 4 – I’m taking baby steps and making progress

At the end of 4 weeks in the role I had my first formal review meeting. Despite nearly 20 years Local Government Service I am still subject to a probation period as I’ve not worked for this particular Local Authority before. It’s only right; I need to be monitored to see how things are progressing. I’m pleased to say that the first review passed without a hitch but most importantly there was an acknowledgement that everyone has learning to do and after 4 weeks I’m doing just fine.

Week 5 – networking is still one of the best ways to learn.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a network meeting for business managers in my borough. The meeting was hosted by one the the local primary SBMs and very well attended. Through attending I made new connections with several other business managers, primary and secondary, and was able to pick their brains about the right contacts in the Local Authority. I would not pick up any new information sitting in my office and not networking. I will be continuing to get out there to share knowledge and experience with my local counterparts.

Week 6 – it’s ok to say “I don’t know”

In this week I experienced my first governors meeting. It was a finance committee meeting, of which I’ve attended many, just not with this particular set of governors. The first positive was that I managed to get my reports prepared and circulated in good time before the meeting. It would have been a little embarrassing to have to table documents on my very first meeting. As the governors examined my budget monitoring report and narrative the questions started coming and I answered them with a mixture of information gleaned from reading previous minutes and my knowledge of school finances. However, I found myself having to respond to a few questions with “I don’t know that” or “I don’t have that information right now”. Not so long ago I would have been disappointed in myself for not having all the answers but I felt comfortable with it. It was ok.

So there we have it – 6 weeks and 6 valuable lessons. It will be interesting to see what key messages I take away from my first 6 months or first year even. Watch this space and I’ll let you know.

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