Three per cent? This must change

Written by: Cheryl Campbell | Published:
Cheryl Campbell, school business, finance and operations director, Thomas Tallis School, south London

Only three per cent of school business leaders in the UK are from a BAME background – we need to work together to set about changing this. Founder of the new ABBLed network, Cheryl Campbell, explains


I came to school business management (SBM) after a 14-year career in local government.

At the London borough of Wandsworth, I worked my way up in the Pupil Services Department, which meant I had a great exposure to schools and the education sector. I also managed things like payroll, as well as being a school governor, which gave me direct experience of looking at school budgets and pupil outcome data and decisions.

It was almost by chance that I came across the role of school business leader (SBL) and I thought straight away that it looked like a good career option. I had very young children at the time, and I thought it might be a good role to take on while juggling with family life.

To start me on my journey, and not wanting to be bored while on maternity leave, I decided to study for a professional SBM qualification with Anglia Ruskin University.

I was really grateful (and still am) to the first school that took me on as SBL, as despite my solid career and new qualifications, I had not worked in a school setting before and it was a bit of a gamble on their part to give me the opportunity.

That was in 2015 and I’ve never looked back.

I worked in two primary schools and then took on the role in a secondary school setting, which is where I am now. I absolutely love the role and could not be happier, despite being very busy and understanding that it certainly isn’t a term-time only job.

I started attending a few SBM conferences and networking events and I enjoyed the professional support these meetings gave me. I got involved with the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO), which is an international organisation based in the US and became the only UK recipient of an Emerging Leaders Scholarship in 2019.

This enabled me to attend an ASBO conference in the US, which was an amazing experience and really boosted my confidence as well as my passion for the profession.


Diversity: Time to change

Last year, the Institute of School Business Leaders, the UK equivalent of ASBO, published a report showing that only three per cent of SBMs in the UK are from a BAME background with 96 per cent coming from a white background (ISBL, 2020).

The report states: “In terms of ethnic diversity, there is significant imbalance. As a profession, we need to develop a much broader appeal to the diverse communities we serve, and our professional community should better reflect the make-up of our schools.”

I wanted to do something to promote SBM roles to the BAME community, to encourage more people into this great profession and so I founded the Association of BAME Business Leaders in Education (ABBLed).

It is a network of professionals, of all ethnicities, to support black, Asian and minority ethnic SBLs and encourage new entrants into the profession.

The network aims to raise the visibility and amplify the voices of BAME SBLs and provide opportunities to develop leadership skills and broaden their network.

I didn’t really know how to start it all off, but I got chatting to a few SBM colleagues and they thought it was a great idea – so we kind of went from there. Obviously Covid then hit, so all of the activity had to be moved online – but that didn’t stop us.

With the support of a few companies, we were able to launch a bursary scheme and our first bursary recipient successfully completed her Aspiring SBM course and has now gone on to study for a full SBM qualification.

One of the most important initiatives of the network is the professional development work. We work hard to get companies in the education sector to donate scholarships so that candidates from ethnic minority groups are able to take professional development qualifications to get them on the first rung of ladder to becoming school business professionals.

Of course, the network needs to be active on social media – so I am frequently on Twitter and I try to regularly write blogs and articles to share my experiences with the wider SBM community and to encourage and inspire others to take action.

As well as founding ABBLed I also started a mentor scheme via Twitter. I seek to match up SBLs with mentors, enabling school business professionals to support and develop each other via a dedicated Twitter account (@SBMMentors).

I have also developed the SBM Steps Challenge, which promotes physical activity among SBLs in order to support both the physical and mental health and wellbeing of these professionals as we usually work in office-bound roles. To further encourage participation in the challenge, we successfully persuaded companies to sponsor prizes for this.

Hilariously, I carry out all of this work alongside working full time as the school business, finance and operations director at Thomas Tallis School in south London.

I do wonder how I fit it all in sometimes, but I absolutely love what I do, and I feel that it is really important to make time to support each other in this profession. Together we can achieve real change to the current make-up of the SBM community here in the UK.

Winning the School Business Manager of the Year accolade at the 2021 Tes School Awards in June this year was brilliant. Not only does it recognise all the work I have put in alongside colleagues for ABBLed, but hopefully it raises the profile of the profession and shows that a woman of colour – or from any background for that matter – can do this role and do it really well.

  • Cheryl Campbell is school business, finance and operations director at Thomas Tallis School in south London and the 2021 School Business Manager of the Year.


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