Are you a next generation business leader?

“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are. So take a risk and do something different.” – Nigel Risner

I took inspiration from the theme of this years ASCL Business Leaders Conference for this blog. It’s a long one, but that’s because there is so much to think about when planning for a future in the school business management profession.

Effective Business Management

Schools and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) need and will continue to need in the future, effective school business management; not necessarily school business managers in their current form. Now that maybe a controversial statement to make, but that’s how I see it.

The structure and way that the business needs are met is developing and changing. There are numerous consultants and companies looking to sell products and services to the education sector. I would expect to see more and more companies emerging that are directly marketed as school business management services, because of the size of the potential market.

What is in the future for school business management?

In the short to medium term I believe we will continue to see a mixture of roles available, with generalist positions covering a number of tasks from all areas (including finance, human resources, ICT, health & safety, safeguarding, facilities…), to CEO and CFO roles in the largest academy chains, with a focus on finance and sustainability.

The Department for Education aspiration for all schools to become academies has not gone away, it is still the governments agenda. Therefore, I think in the long term we will see fewer generalist roles. This is a real opportunity for those working in business management to direct their career.

Focusing on high level accountancy skills, in order to fulfil the statutory reporting requirements placed on academies.

Detailed knowledge and understanding of HR policies and procedures, to manage large staffing structures, deal with restructures and expansions, along with disciplinary matters.

Expert marketing and PR strategies, that engage key stakeholders, whilst attracting and retaining the best staff and supporting income generation.

What will the role look like in the future?

One of the strongest attributes that people currently working in school business management roles have is the knowledge and understanding of how schools run, don’t under estimate how valuable this is. Most people are quick to point out what they can’t do or don’t know.

To ensure efficient running of Multi Academy Trusts they will need to have efficient and well organised structures, processes and procedures, that span across boroughs, counties and even nationally. The best business managers or leaders will be able to design and lead School and MAT structures that are scalable.

The larger the scale of operations the more opportunities there will be to specialise in individual disciplines and at various level. I think we will continue to see the key areas being finance, human resources and marketing/PR.

Business leaders working at the highest level need to focus on being a strategic leader and that the tasks they undertake have a positive impact. Where possible making measureable impact that can be reported to the trust or governing board. SBLs can start doing this now, think about the tasks and processes you undertake, can you show improvements and changes that have had a positive impact? Can you set yourself KPI’s?

Be good at building and developing effective relationships and efficient teams. Getting your staffing structure and roles and responsibilities right will ensure that you provide the best school business management function. A skills analysis is really useful for this. As is using the NASBM Professional Standards self evaluation tool. Getting this right will pay off in the long term. Along, with having a network of contacts that can provide advice or support. Again this is something that you can start doing now. If you don’t already have a business card get one printed, the next time you are at a Conference hand them out.

Habits of Successful People:

  • Continuously learn – constantly challenge yourself
  • Create trust, give compliments and say thank you – inspire people to be as passionate about business management as you
  • Embrace change – progress without change is impossible
  • Forgive others – being positive in a negative situation is not naive, it is leadership
  • Discuss ideas – take every opportunity to communicate and develop ideas
  • Accept responsibility – always
  • Goal orientated – a goal should scare you a little bit, but excite you a lot. Make it happen!

NASBM School Business Management Professional Standards resources:

What qualifications will SBLs find valuable?

Qualifications and CPD are going to be vital for anyone aspiring to be in one the top roles. Staying current and up to date with legislation will be a key part of the role.

Professional qualifications in finance like ACCA or in human resources like CIPD (of course there are many more), are widely recognised across most industry types and provide a good basis for understanding the level of knowledge and capability that an individual has; in changing and challenging circumstances, recruitment panels will be looking for the best possible candidates, and if the salaries finally become comparative with other senior leadership roles, these roles will become far more attractive.

There are also exciting new qualifications in development, such as the Level 6 School Business Director Trailblazer Apprenticeship, which should be funded by the apprenticeship levy that most schools and academies will be paying from 1 April 2017.

Demonstrate Impact

If you don’t have one already, write a school business development plan, that sets out the areas your team is planning to improve and develop. Start with looking at the year ahead, and move on to drafting a long term plan. You can use this as a working document to track progress and achievements.

If you are looking for inspiration or areas to focus on look at the performance management targets that have been set for you and your team; the school development plan and your self-assessment of the NASBM Professional Standards.

Present this information to your Headteacher and Governing Board to demonstrate the impact of your role as a role strategic leader.

Collaboration is great!

I would strongly recommend that ambitious school business managers and leaders collaborate and network.

I have learned so much through just asking general questions to people I am sat by at a conference. Things like: what software products they use, how they organise their team, how they would deal with a certain situation…

There are a number of ways to collaborate:

  • Attend CPD events and conferences. There are many quality conferences that take place through the year, see my post on this topic:
  • Undertaking a professional qualification in school business management or leadership
  • Attend regional school business management meetings
  • Utilise Social Media – Twitter and LinkedIn are the main platforms that I use. Remember to check your school social media policy before you start posting
  • Link with another school. If you are new to the business management profession ask others in your leadership and management team if they can recommend a contact
  • Consider joining an organisation like NASBM, ASCL and/or NAHT. Remember that this is a tax deductible expense!

Is there a glass ceiling for business leaders?


For those with great leadership skills, along with the qualifications and experience I don’t see a glass ceiling. Why should there be?

Attracting & retaining talent

It is going to be a competitive market for schools and MATs desiring to employee the best business leaders.

In order to attract the best candidates Schools and MATs need:

  • To be forward thinking and support system development
  • Have an effective marketing strategy
  • Provide quality professional development programmes
  • Have a website that is candidate friendly
  • Provide quality inductions including a workplace mentor
  • Enable flexible working opportunities

Where do you see your role in the future? What are you doing to prepare for the future?

Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do.