Someone recently asked me what I think are the most important things to focus on during the first 100 days in post as secondary school SBM. Luckily for me this was only a few months ago so quite fresh in my memory and easy to recall.
Although I started my role in September 2019 I preceded that with a number of handover days in the summer to get ahead of the game. It was invaluable to sit with the outgoing Business Director to pick her brain about how things worked. We scheduled in 4 half days over the last two weeks of August, each one with a focused area of discussion to kickstart my knowledge. We started with a session on PFI and how it works. As much as I’d tried read up on the subject, I was honest about the depth of my knowledge in my interview and knew I had to learn quickly. The session was great and I still have the photo of the whiteboard diagram on my phone. It put me in a good position to hit the ground running when it came to managing the contract. That session was followed by sessions around the budget position and the school plan.
I put this question out to the great SBLs of twitter and was pleased to see that their advice largely matched what I had done. I should really have asked the question in September though really, shouldn’t I?
So what were the top 6 things I did during the first 100 days?
1. Get organised
I got myself a planner. Well actually, I designed my own because I couldn’t find what I wanted. I was very fussy about what my planner needed to include to keep me on the right path of organisation. I used an M by Staples Arc A4 disc-bound notebook and filled it with the inserts I felt would be most useful. This consisted of:
~ a set of month view calendar pages to allow me to have a overview of important events through the month
~ a set of diary pages, divided into 3 terms, with a week over two pages. Each day is set out in a vertical column with a section at the bottom for notes. To the right of the page is a column that I use for my to do list with a section at the bottom where I note things to be carried over to the next week
~ a section for notes so I had everything in one place and didn’t need to walk round with a diary and a notebook
~ a section for project planning with templates that have space for timescales, resources, key contacts etc
~ a section for budget notes where I jot down things that need to be incorporated into my budget planning then cross them off once they’re accounted for
~ lastly a section for governor stuff.
I absolutely love my planner and wouldn’t be without it now. I toyed with the idea of an A5 version but decided to leave it alone. The great thing about a disc-bound planner is that I can move pages and sections around if I want to redesign the flow of information.
2. The school development plan
I read the school plan, discussed it with my predecessor and my HT and then went away to write my own plan about the points on which I had been assigned to lead on. I also had to present my priorities for the year ahead to the whole school on the first day of term so it was kind of important that I had something to talk about.
3. Build a network
I made sure I had a support network around me. I matched myself up with a mentor via @SBMMentors on Twitter. I introduced myself to local SBMs in my new borough and found out when the regular meetings took place. I formed an alliance with the secondary SBLs in the borough (which has been fantastic during the Covid-19 pandemic!). I continued to make use of the wealth of knowledge and experience on SBL Twitter.
4. Get to know people in my school
I scheduled regular meetings with each of the managers under my remit – HR, Finance and IT. I inherited a vacancy in the Operations Manager role so I incorporated it into my own workload and scheduled in regular meetings with the Site Manager from the external facilities management company we work with. Alongside that I had a weekly meeting with my Head Teacher. Unusually, my predecessor remained at the school for the first 5 weeks. She had just the right mix of handing over ownership of the role and being a supportive source of information and inspiration. We had a daily catchup and it made for the best start to the job. For example, she was there to guide me in preparing for my first governors meeting but I went it alone on the day as she’d left the week before.
5. Read governors’ minutes
I went through all the minutes from governors’ meetings to familiarise myself with the issues raised and especially items that had been deferred and that I then needed to pick up. I found it useful to look at the minutes from the last meeting and then the minutes from the same meeting 1 year ago to get into the stride of things and get to grips with the reporting format governors were used to.
6. Scrutinise the budget
I had a good look at the budget figures. Having been in primary phase, the numbers looked huge to me but I converted everything back to percentages to put it into context. My predecessor used a very complex spreadsheet for budget monitoring which I quickly had to get my head around. It was great but I decided very early on to look into budget planning software. I attended a course on sixth form funding and also a course on ICFP. Both things that I’d not needed in primary but are key things to understand in a secondary context. I also went to meet with an experienced secondary SBL to get a practical understanding of how to approach budget setting (@biggs_4eva29 on Twitter).
Through raising this topic on Twitter I’ve picked up some fabulous nuggets of advice that are great for anyone about to make the same move. There is so much support and advise out there so make the most of it, there’s no need to struggle through alone when you’re part of the SBL community.
“Get to know the people you will work with, from the cleaners to the head teacher. Trust me, you will need each one. Have 1-2-1s with the team. Assess what’s already there and work with it. Unless critical, don’t make any changes in that time. Let stakeholders know that you’re there” – @SandyTomlinso12
“Find an SBM buddy at a nearby school, find school forum minutes on the web and look at those” – @Schoolburs
“Learn the school development plan by heart. Find out what’s different in your new context from your old one – budget, policies, governance, funding, returns etc. Review all supplier contracts, review staffing structures. Challenge all the set in stones. Spend time with your Head” – @sbl365
“Join your local SBM group and as many networks as possible. Organise a mentoring session with someone from the SBM group or a local secondary SBM in same type of school especially if you have 6th form – to get your head round the funding. Read through last year of gov minutes.” – @SBMNorfolk