What your school business leader can do for you

Written by: Hayley Dunn | Published:
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Do you get the most from the expertise of your school business leader? Hayley Dunn looks at how schools can maximise the impact of the business leader position

How much do you know about the work of your school business leader? How well do you utilise their expertise and insight?

Recently, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has been involved in a number of workshops at education conferences, discussing the question: “What can your school business professional do for you?”

These have proved popular and have put a spotlight on the sometimes hidden role that school business leaders undertake.

So, arising from these events, here are 10 tips on making the best use of your school business leader.

Give them a seat at the table

Having a place for business leaders at senior leadership team meetings is essential, including those meetings which are focused on teaching and learning. Allow them to have a voice, respect their opinion and encourage their participation.

An excellent way of ensuring that the voices of all leaders are heard is to give an opportunity for each member of the senior leadership team to lead a meeting, where they set the agenda from their point of view. Great leadership teams work in harmony, with business leaders forming a vital component.
Ask them the big, important strategic questions. What would they add to the school development plan given the opportunity? What do they see as the future shape of educational provision in your school?

Include them in Integrated Curriculum Financial Planning (ICFP)

Your school business leader’s expertise is essential in your approach to ICFP, working in partnership with the curriculum lead to design an affordable curriculum, building an understanding of the metrics and establishing what works for your school. There is no single answer to ICFP, it is about balancing the curriculum with the resources available to make the best decisions (SecEd, 2019).

Value their time

Many business leaders work through the school holidays; they have peak times in their workload and varying demands on their time. They hate saying “no” and they try to be as accommodating as possible. If you want to have more than a brief chat with them, appreciate that they have other commitments and book a slot that is convenient to you both.

Encourage them to take opportunities to work uninterrupted, by providing equipment and regular time to work away from school. This can be vital, for example, where it is a key part of their role to focus on detailed financial planning, supporting strategic and curriculum planning, and providing three to five-year financial forecasts. It can be really hard to concentrate on these important tasks without uninterrupted time.

Appreciate their workload

However cool and calm your business leader is, they do have a demanding role, with as much accountability and responsibility as other leaders.

They will have deadlines to meet, such as the monthly payroll, termly auditor visits, annual financial closedown and production of the financial statements; all important tasks that they have a statutory duty to complete and which have serious consequences if not completed accurately.

Consider their workload and priorities when asking for their support.

Furthermore, it is important to understand how demands change if schools convert to being an academy.

For example, whereas the financial year end is March 31 for maintained schools, it changes to August 31 for academies. This is particularly important to consider if your business leader does not have a full-year contract. Are your expectations reasonable in terms of workload?

Involve them

Being a business leader can be an isolated role, which may seem an odd thing to say when they work in a school. But often the majority of their time is not timetabled, and they can sometimes feel like a lone voice.

Many school leaders have travelled a similar route from teacher training through to senior leadership. The business leader can learn from your knowledge and experience to do their roles more effectively. Invite them to special events, involve them in planning and ask them to join a lesson.

Feeling part of the bigger school team is important and you can help by inviting them to social and celebration events. One of the things that business leaders often love about working in schools is the opportunity to see their impact on pupils.

Utilise their varied and expansive expertise and knowledge

The business leader is an efficient and high-calibre member of the leadership team, who has a breadth of skills, experience and knowledge, which include financial expertise, leading change management, project management, delivering value for money and being entrepreneurial.

Collaborate with them

Make introductions, network and work together and utilise and benefit from each other’s professional connections.

Value your business leader

If you want to recruit and retain the best school business leader then it is essential that their remuneration package (i.e. pay and conditions) is considered in parity with other senior leadership team members.

Allow them autonomy to do their role with shared responsibility for accountability

Champion them to be a leader in your school and share the burden of responsibility for accountability. Get a balance between support and challenge – a coaching model can work really well; not always giving the answers, but asking the right questions.

Ensure there are clear lines of accountability and impact. Building respect for the role starts with the headteacher and senior leadership colleagues, demonstrating parity of roles and mutual respect. Include them in succession planning, for their own role and their team – you may have a fantastic business leader who knows everything about your school.

Invest in their CPD

If your business leader is a member or fellow of a professional institute, they will be required to do a number of hours of CPD annually, for which they are accountable. There are as many policy changes in business management and leadership as there are in teaching, if not more. It is essential that your business leader keeps up with the latest information. Investing in your business leader is an investment in your school’s future.

Conclusion

Returning to that question posed earlier in this article, “what can your school business professional do for you?”, when utilised well, business leaders can play a significant part in setting the strategic direction of a school, both in terms of maximising financial efficiency and providing financial assurance. In a constantly changing and challenging environment, they can help leadership teams to navigate the terrain, bring a different perspective to decision-making, and ensure the delivery of a curriculum which matches resources and pupils’ needs.

  • Hayley Dunn is a school business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders.

Further information & resources

  • Integrated curriculum financial planning, SecEd, February 2019: http://bit.ly/2XTMOir
  • ASCL’s Business Leaders Conference is being held on June 5, 2019, in Birmingham. Visit www.ascl.org.uk


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