My SBM Life by Annie O'Kane

What’s your job title and the name of your school?

I am the School Business Manager at Chadwell Primary School in Essex which is a 3-form entry, Local Authority maintained school with a nursery.

How long have you been an SBM?

For 5 years…I qualified in 2014 and managed to secure a post immediately.

What was your path to SBM?

This surprises everyone! I gained 12+ GCSEs and moved on to complete my A-Levels before heading off to University where I graduated with a degree in Computer Animation. I have always been a highly creative person and truly thought I would end up working somewhere within a creative industry but I went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Business Management before taking a temporary position as ICT Technician in my old Primary School. An opportunity opened up and I was moved by the Headteacher into the role of Finance Officer which at the time, completely mortified me…

I never liked mathematics at school and the thought of working with numbers all day, every day sent me cold! However, 18 months later I found that I had outgrown the role and desired more challenge. I took the decision to apply for the same position at another school, within another Local Authority and I have been here ever since! Fortunately for me, my Head has put me through CSBM and DSBM qualifications.

How would you describe the role of an SBM?

This is a question I am often asked and the answer always sounds like I am “blowing my own trumpet” for want of a better saying. The SBM role is one of huge responsibility not only for the obvious areas of Finance, HR, H&S & Premises Management but also of the overlooked areas such as staff wellbeing, creative thinking/budgeting, being a counsellor / therapist to staff / parents and much more.

We hold responsibility for ensuring that no matter what happens, the school must continue to run efficiently, effectively and safely at all times. Perhaps a descriptor such as: “Fountain of all knowledge” sums up how we are viewed by others. In a modern world, when we don’t know the answer to something we ‘Ask Google’ or ‘Ask Siri / Alexa’. In school, if someone doesn’t know the answer to something they ‘Ask the SBM’! J

What are the 5 top key elements of your role?

  1. Finance
  2. Payroll
  3. Staff Management
  4. HR
  5. Health & Safety

What characteristics do you believe make for a Smart SBM?

This role demands flexibility, adaptability and versatility. No two days are the same and a day never goes to plan so you have to be willing and ready to deal with any situation you find yourself faced with.

You need to be approachable but more importantly you need to develop to become emotionally strong, to enable yourself to deal with the weight of the role, your own emotions, plus those of others around you who inevitably will unload onto you.

In such a busy role it is easy to jump from task to task without allowing any time for thought processing in between or after but to be a Smart SBM I believe it is crucial to be reflective and to be honest with yourself about what you have learned from a process.

To cope with the demands of the role you absolutely need to be reliable, organised and extremely resilient. It is very easy to feel quite isolated by the role; The wealth of support and knowledge which is out there makes such a difference on #SBLTwitter.

What’s your top tip for saving time at work?

Lists, lists and more lists! It is easy within this role to very quickly feel overwhelmed by ever increasing workload. Feeling overwhelmed then impacts on the level of productivity you can achieve because you are unable to focus and therefore you waste time which in reality we cannot afford to lose.

It is so important to accept that you are one person and you cannot do everything on your own, nor can you do everything all at once.

For me, lists are the best way for me to detail everything that needs to be completed and then I can quickly and easily prioritise each task and even delegate some to other members of staff.

Keeping the list then allows me to stay on track with what is being completed, by who and for when and I can mark it off once it is finished which has to be one of the little victories that we all love to celebrate… The crossing off of a task on our ‘To-Do List’.

What’s your top tip for saving your school money?

For external savings my top tip would be have the mind-set of not accepting the first price as there will nearly always be room for negotiation.

For internal savings my top tip would be to have some honest and frank conversations with staff. Talk to them about some ways they can help the school save money e.g. through printer credit systems, switching projectors off when not in use, using the RISO instead of the photocopier etc. If they have an understanding of how much resources such as exercise books, glue sticks etc cost, they are more likely to work collectively to support savings which can easily be achieved with whole school ‘buy-in’.

Most SBMs we meet say that networking is a key to the role – what’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from one of your SBM peers?

We are never too experienced or too qualified to learn, so engaging with networking whether it be through conferences providing CPD and procurement opportunities, or establishing a network between local / similar schools is completely invaluable.

Probably the most valuable thing I have learnt from one of my peers is that ‘no question is a silly question’ and that it is better to ask as the likelihood is that someone will have the answer or some valuable advice to help you.

What’s the last thing, professionally, that surprised you?

Being asked to support our Financial Consultant in delivering training to the next phase of schools to move their HR & Payroll outside of the LA.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an SBM?

The whole package! In particular the way in which I can see that the work I do is positively supporting the school to deliver the teaching and learning to provide every child with the best opportunities at the start of their educational journey.

How do you see the role of SBM within the SLT?

It is a unique position to hold as for many schools the SBM will be the only ‘non-teaching’ member of staff within the SLT however this by no means reduces the value of their input. If anything the value for this reason alone is far greater. The SBM input within SLT is crucial to ensuring that everyone within the Leadership of the school is fully aware of the financial health of the school, and has a strong understanding of what is affordable and sustainable in terms of future developments, staffing, resources, etc.Extremely important for the smooth and efficient running of the school. Hugely important. You need to have an honest and open working relationship. You need to be able to read their mind too! Extremely important for the smooth and efficient running of the school.

What do you think is the key to a good head teacher / SBM relationship?

Having trust and belief in each other is really important but so is being able to laugh together. The two roles can be highly stressful and pressurised so finding time to reflect on what we do and why we do it, plus being sure to take satisfaction and joy from seeing the positive differences we are making help to create a manageable balance.

What advice would you give to someone new coming into an SBM role?

Take your time to learn the role and don’t feel that you are failing if it takes you longer than you expected. Every school does things differently so whilst finding your feet, be sure to network and build a support team of other SBMs you can turn to if and when needed. Ensure that before you make changes that you are seen to observe, discuss with and listen to those it will impact so that you win them over by making them feel part of the process.

What do you do to de-stress after a long day at school?

There is no set thing that I do but I try and make sure that I spend time with family – having dinner together, chatting and watching a tv show / film together. I really enjoy reading so I am often found with a book in my hand but I also love being creative so it is not unusual to find me making something either.

As Gary Keller perfectly summarises: “Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls – family, health, friends, integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

If you have one, tell us about your blog / book / Twitter handle?

Find me at @aok8130 on Twitter