My SBM Life by Phil Burton

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

I am the School Business Manager at Hallbrook Primary School within the Success Academy Trust.

How long have you been an SBM?

I have been an SBM for nearly 4 years.

What was your path to SBM?

I started my working life with a national retailer and within my 16 years there I spend time working within the Operations Department, HR and Talent Development, Health & Safety, Project Management, Fraud Investigation, Catering, Legal and Customer Services. It was quite a varied time enabling me to gain lots of all-round experiences. I was voted “Apprentice of the Year” in 2011 after completing a Commercial Retail Apprenticeship, completed my Human Resource Level 5 Diploma with the CIPD in 2016, then completed my ADSBM within the first year at my school 2016 and more recently trained as a professional clerk in 2019. 

How would you describe the role of an SBM?

The role is fantastically varied with no two days the same. Nothing surprises me anymore working in this role.

What are the 5 top key elements of your role?

  1. Finance - you have to understand and be on top of it. Be commercial think how you can bring in additional revenues whilst getting value for money out of your main funding.
  2. Health and Safety - make sure everyone is safe!
  3. People and Community - getting as many people loving your school will make your life a whole lot easier
  4. Marketting and PR - Shout about how good your school and people are. The community want to know
  5. Premises - keep your premises looking great

All of these are linked together by ensuring they work alongside each other will ensure you have a successful operation

What characteristics do you believe make for a Smart SBM?

The biggest quality is to be able to be leader. Getting your people to buy into your operational vision will make life easier. Be clear with your communication and be confident in your knowledge. Don’t be afraid to speak out if you disagree with something.

Why do schools need an SBM?

The Business Manager is the third link in school leadership. The Headteacher has overall responsibility which is supported by the deputy for all things educational and the Business Manager for all operational activities. The Business Manager is the font of knowledge and has the skills to drive the school forward with the other two roles.

Have you ever reached the bottom of your to-do list?

I once thought I had reached the end but it was just a dream.  You will never get to the end of the to-do list but prioritising the key stuff makes it easier.

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

Employ the best team around you. Give them the skills and knowledge to do a great job. They can make your job easier!!

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

BE cheeky! Ask for discount and be prepared to walk away. They want your business more than you want them.

What’s your biggest pain point when it comes to procurement?

Pushy salespeople - I just want people to listen to my needs and sell me something that fits my criteria.

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?

The biggest thing I have learnt from other SBMs is to make sure you look after your own wellbeing. No one else is going to do it for you. Take time out for yourself, do things that make you happy and ditch things that don’t.

Tell us about an hour of your day today

This is harder than I thought, so in the end I decided the end of the day would be the most interesting. At around 15.00 I stop whatever I am doing to open the school gates to our parents, often answering queries, followed by a quick check on the afterschool provision and sports clubs, lock the gates back up and open the car park so staff can leave. Then quick catch up with the office for any more queries and then back to the task I was doing before whilst answering all the questions of the staff who walk by.

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

The last thing that surprised me was just how slow the sector works.  The time it takes to get something done is unbelievable and you would not find it in any private sector job.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an SBM?

I feel the biggest reward is hearing stories from parents or kids about how good something is that you created or achieved for the school.

SBM, SBP or SBL – where do you stand on the title?

Someone once told me a true leader was defined by their actions and achievements not their title. The title really is not important.

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

This role is key as it provides the missing part to the running of a school. It is the “police” of the school and often is realistic one. You must be resilient as usually there is one of you and many educationalists.

How important do you think the head teacher / SBM relationship is?

The relationship between these two is just as key as that of the HT and DHT. It is the link for the HT to the Operational side of their school.

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

Trust between each other is vital, freedom to talk openly about issues is key to this relationship. I really believe this is the biggest area that will help ensure you have a great relationship. 

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

Find a mentor that you can talk to and bounce ideas with. Take time to observe the setting before making massive changes. Join a local network.

How do you handle a bad day at the office?

Act professionally at all times whilst at work. I then usually go running and depending on how mad I am, will often determine the speed and distance I run.

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

I find running helps me to chill out. I find that sometimes a run on my own allows me to find the head space to think things through and make sense of the day. At other times, running in a group and having a good chinwag is the perfect medicine. It’s amazing what you talk about when you are at mile 10 of 13.

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

I blog and post my stories and thoughts under the Twitter handle @runningsbm.