There’s no glossing over the fact that this year has been nothing short of challenging for anyone working in a school. But while there’s been plenty of sector discussion about the obstacles faced by heads and teaching staff - and rightly so - less has been said about the separate set of challenges faced by SBMs.
MIS users are at the heart of everything we do here at ScholarPack, and a large portion of MIS users are indeed SBMs. And so, we felt it was only right that we share the findings from a report written by our colleagues at The Key about school business management during COVID-19. In part one of this blog series, we’ll zoom in on the worrying impact of COVID-19 on workload, wellbeing and peer-to-peer support for SBMs.
Finding 1: SBMs have worked even more overtime than usual
It’s not news that SBMs are overworked. The Key carried an initial study in Dec 2019 just before COVID-19 hit and found that 40% of respondents said that they work more than 7 additional unpaid hours a week, and 15% said it could be as much as 11 additional hours per week.
Fast-forward to July 2020 the combined proportion of respondents who worked more than 7 hours above their paid, contractual hours grew to 52%, and the percentage who worked more than 11 unpaid hours a week soared to 28%.
What’s more, the majority of respondents either worked term-time only, part-time hours, or both. Upon speaking to respondents initially in 2019 - The Key's researchers were told that this is either because the school cannot afford them full time (particularly in smaller primaries), or even more commonly because they are fitting the role around their own childcare. In other words, individuals are juggling multiple demands, and are having to do even more of that without being financially rewarded.
“The challenging part has been working but having my own children at home and not in school.” - SBM, primary school, south east
Finding 2: The wellbeing of SBMs is at an all-time low
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the increased workload also comes with a negative impact on wellbeing. Feelings of frustration, stress and exhaustion were apparent in the thousands of free-text comments from SBM respondents added throughout the survey. And while The Key doesn’t have comparative data from December 2019, the team were able to get a worrying glimpse into how SBMs have been feeling this year to date.
As you can see from the graph taken from the original report - the majority (48%) reported that work has had a negative or very negative impact on wellbeing during the pandemic.
While our previous blog post on improving staff wellbeing is by no means a solution, it does include some useful tips on how to support yourself and your colleagues during this difficult time.
“The focus on teacher wellbeing, as usual, is top of the agenda, but it is rarely considered for non-teaching staff.” - SBM, primary school, London
Finding 3: Peer-to-peer support has declined
Unfortunately, alongside the above, the report shows a decline in what was once a strong level of peer-to-peer support among SBMs.
Back in autumn 2019, The Key found that the SBM network was pretty close-knit, with this group of professionals leaning on each other often for trusted support. This support ranged from friends they could phone for reassurance about a decision, to organised support groups running termly networking sessions. SBMs explained the importance of these relationships in the context of working in what can be a very isolated and ever-changing role.
In July 2020, The Key wanted to see whether SBMs were able to continue leaning on these relationships during COVID-19. They found that there was a small decline in the extent to which SBMs received support from other SBMs, with 1 in 5 stating that they had had ‘none at all’.
Interestingly, we can see from the below graph how SBMs had received support from each other in December 2019, and that the most common means of support (networking, meeting in person, emails and phone) dropped significantly in July 2020
While it doesn't dig into these findings any further, the report speculates that these declines are down to the fact that every SBM, regardless of experience, is in the same boat in that they’re dealing with a pandemic for the first time. It also pointed out that given the data on the additional hours SBMs were working, it’s also very likely SBMs were just too busy to support others during this time.
As I said, I think it’s fair to say that the struggles of an SBM during COVID-19 are less commonly understood. And so, if you’re an SBM reading this, or a school leader supporting an SBM during this difficult time, I hope these findings make you feel somewhat 'seen and heard'.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing more findings on the changing role of the SBM during COVID-19, and The Key’s recommendations on how to improve the working conditions and wellbeing for those with school business management responsibilities. Subscribe to our newsletter here to get notified when these blogs are published.
Download the report in full here.