A spotlight on SBMs part 2: changes and challenges during COVID-19

Posted by Nathalie Hulbert on Nov 20, 2020 10:48:46 AM

I recently shared some findings from a report by The Key, about the impact of COVID-19 on SBMs. These findings illustrated an increase in the already high workload of an SBM, coupled with a decrease in their levels of wellbeing.

In part 2 of this blog series, I wanted to shed a little more light on how the workload of an SBM has changed since the pandemic hit, as well as the unforeseen challenges that have followed.

There is extra pressure on safe premises management 

Premises management has always comprised a significant part of the SBM role. However, when initially surveying in 2019 -  The Key’s researchers found that SBMs spent the most time on finance, followed by HR, and then lastly, premises management. 

Fast forward to July 2020,  when The Key asked SBMs the same question again, and the proportion of time spent on finance dropped significantly (from 46% to 35%). Meanwhile, the time spent managing the school premises increased from 26% to 38%. What’s more, this wasn’t simply “business as usual” premises management. Rather, SBMs were required to enforce new requirements such as social distancing, closing or partially closing the school site, carrying out additional risk assessments and updating health and safety policies. 

To probe further, The Key asked respondents what had taken up most of their time specifically during COVID-19, and the top response (picked by 65% of respondents) was ‘Health and safety management’. 

It’s also worth noting that when asked in 2019 about their experience prior to becoming an SBM, only 15% had come from an “operations” background. 

The pandemic was a daunting situation for even the most experienced operations professional, so we can only imagine how stressed an SBM who is new to this area would have felt (and may still be feeling). 

Budgets cannot cover the cost of the crisis

As I said, finance has long been a core part of the SBM role, and respondents told The Key in 2019 that their main challenge was that they were often expected to make the budget go further somehow. Unfortunately, this perennial pain point has been worsened by the pandemic, from trying to find the budget for the inflated cost of PPE, to paying for signage and additional cleaning. 

Despite the increase in schools’ average core funding for 2021, respondents expressed that they would still need to cover many COVID-related costs themselves, without new revenue to help -  a problem exacerbated by the loss in income that might ordinarily offset these expenses. 

“We have lost significant revenue. We make £40k per year from our clubs which have not been running, £10k from aftercare, which hasn’t been running, £12k from letting our facilities and we have lost thousands from parent fundraising from not having the usual charity events.”

- SBM, primary school, London

Changes to guidance and not enough time to implement them 

It’s fair to say that the unrelenting pace of the pandemic has been matched by a whirlwind of changes within the sector - requiring clear top-down guidance for school leaders and their teams.

In light of the above, The Key was keen to understand how much time SBMs spent responding to, reviewing and implementing the latest government guidance within their schools.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 50% of respondents said reviewing government guidance took up most of their time since the pandemic began.

“Updates to previous information were not highlighted, so you had to read the full report each time."

- SBM, secondary school, East of England

While respondents rated government guidance relatively positively overall - they also said that the frequency of changes in guidance, the length and complexity thereof, and the lack of time granted to implement the new regulations - was a huge stress factor. 

The Key’s team also asked respondents what had been the most difficult thing for them, as an SBM specifically, to implement. Nearly 1 in 3 (28%) said that organising staffing in line with the latest protective measures - e.g. skeleton staffing during partial closure, organising bubbles and so forth, was the most difficult task they personally performed. However, 45% said free school meal vouchers were the biggest challenge and time drain, especially getting access to the vouchers.

“We finally got on to the Edenred website on 8 July.”

- SBM, alternative provision, London

While The Key’s findings may seem foreboding, to say the least, the report did find that were some positive changes to the perception of the role, namely, what SBMs do day-to-day. The report has also provided some evidence-based recommendations for stakeholders who may have the power to improve the current circumstances for SBMs, which I’ll speak about in more detail in my next blog post. Subscribe to our newsletter here to get notified when this blog is published. 

You can download the report in full here.  



Topics: scholarpack, blog, SBMs, SBM report