A spotlight on SBMs part 3: recommendations for key stakeholders

Posted by Nathalie Hulbert on Dec 11, 2020 1:54:58 PM

For those of you who keep a keen eye on this blog, you will know that over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing insights from a report written by our colleagues at The Key about the challenges of school business management during COVID-19. In the first blog, we looked at the worrying impact of COVID-19 on wellbeing and workload, and in the second, we delved into how the workload of an SBM has changed, and the subsequent challenges that have come up. 

While The Key is not a campaigning group, the team  are committed to making the life of any school leader easier through their expertise and guidance. In that vein, the report includes some recommendations for remedying the identified challenges:

SLTs and governing boards - review pay, workload and wellbeing 

Firstly, the report found that SBMs were vastly overworked, without being financially compensated for their time. Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents also reported that work has had a negative or very negative impact on wellbeing during the pandemic.

As such, The Key puts forward in the report a recommendation that SLTs and Governing boards review pay, conditions and resourcing for SBMs and those in similar roles. This should include a review the hours they worked in spring/summer 2020, as well as any extra responsibilities they took on and the resources available to them. Moreover, they should factor all this into planning and appraisal decisions in the next period. 

The report also suggests that SLTs and Governing boards make wellbeing a priority for all staff, not just teaching staff and that they bring a specific focus to the wellbeing of SBMs when reviewing the results of staff surveys or audits and planning next steps.

“The impact of this extra workload coupled with the emotional strain caused by a global pandemic is taking its toll on practitioners’ wellbeing and mental health. Not only do we need to recognise the enormous contribution that school business professionals up and down the country have made to keep our education system running, but we also need to make sure we take great care of this group of vital educational professionals."

- Stephen Morales, CEO of the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL)

National government - make implementing the latest guidance more viable 

Secondly, this has been a year of rapid change when it comes to government advice, and so it stands to reason that 50% of respondents said reviewing government guidance took up most of their time since the pandemic began. They also expressed concern over the frequency, length and complexity of the guidance, as well as the lack of time to implement changes.

Consequently, in its report, The Key puts forward a recommendation  that the government considers how to make the guidance to schools more practical in the event of future lockdowns, or as the situation otherwise continues to evolve.

A longer lead-in time for schools to implement government guidance was also put forward as well as improvements to the Edenred website so that SBMs can access free school meals vouchers without having to wait until usage is lower, i.e.- outside of working hours.

LAs and trusts - give more flexibility around budgets 

The report also found that despite the increase in schools’ average core funding for 2021, many of the respondents explained that they would still need to cover many COVID-related costs themselves, without new revenue to help. The problem has been worsened by the loss in income from wraparound provision, in-person school events and other fundraisers.

Accordingly, The Key’s report suggests LAs and trusts give schools more flexibility over budgets going into this academic year and next financial year, and that they provide more support around short-term shortfalls in income and increases in expenditure. 

Professional bodies and training organisations - provide more SBM-specific support 

Lastly, it was found that SBMs spent more time on premises management this year than their other two core functions (finance and HR). Specifically, SBMs reported that they spent this time managing the health and safety levels of the premises, as well as line managing the premises management staff. Notably, the report also found that only 15% of SBMs originally came from an operations background before starting out in the role.

“During the pandemic, the emphasis of the school business professional role has shifted significantly away from finance towards troubleshooting, premises and business continuity planning.”

- Stephen Morales, CEO of the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL)

In line with these findings, The Key’s report puts forward the recommendation that professional bodies look to develop and offer more premises training, and support for SBMs, specifically around adapting school buildings in line with government guidance and managing site staff in this area. Setting up or developing existing local, regional or national ‘SBM champions’ could also help in this respect, by leaning on SBMs with established credibility in solving some of the challenges associated with this period who can then share best practice with the sector.

It’s been an undeniably tough year for anyone working in a school - but the intention of this report was to highlight the lesser-known struggles of an SBM and to put some suggestions on the table for stakeholders who can help action a change. The team at both The Key and ScholarPack hope it achieves just that.

I’ll be back in the new year with more insights and practical guidance from around the sector. In the meantime, we wish you a smooth run-up to the end term and hope you manage to get a well-deserved break over the festive period.

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Topics: scholarpack, blog, SBMs, SBM report