My SBM Life by Sam Long

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

I am the Head of Operations here at Millbrook Combined School in Buckinghamshire. Millbrook is a large, recently expanded primary school with a Children’s Centre, Adult Learning Centre, Swimming Pool and internally managed kitchen which feeds 10 other local schools. My remit as Head of Operations is very similar to that of an SBM.

How long have you been an SBM?

5 years, in 3 different schools, across two local authorities.

What was your path to SBM?

Office Management within SME’s – when I realised I wanted to become an SBM (my mum is one and loves her job!), I worked as a Clerk to Governors alongside my private sector role to give me a broad overview of school life.

How would you describe the role of an SBM?

Fast paced, dynamic, no two days are the same. Hard work but very rewarding.

What are the 5 top key elements of your role?

  • People Management – making sure school staff are happy, have the right resources to do their jobs well and are giving their best for our young people.
  • Financial Management – making sure that the resources and services we buy offer the best value, are the right price, meet our needs and are readily available.
  • Health & Safety – maintaining the school to keep our children and staff healthy, safe and secure.
  • Income Generation – with tight budgets, exploring creative ways to bring more money into the school
  • Collaboration – internally and externally working with others to use individual’s skills to their full potential, working with other schools to have greater buying power.

What characteristics do you believe make for a Smart SBM?

  • Happy to challenge – do we need that supply teacher? Could another system save time and money? Are we doing it this way because it’s effective or because it has always been done this way?
  • Able to act with conviction – often you are the one that has to make important decisions and you need to be confident in doing so. It also helps to be able to own your mistakes!
  • Strong self-starter – there is only one of you in your school, no-one will show you the ropes – you’ll need to be able to get stuck in and work it out for yourself.

Why do schools need an SBM?

I believe that a good SBM should lead the support/business function of a school to alleviate operational activities from the Headteacher, enabling them to focus on what they do best – Teaching & Learning.

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

Haha – no! 

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

Focus on one task at a time and see it through to fruition – this isn’t always practical but is generally a more efficient way to work and more satisfying too.

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

Buy smart, the cheapest isn’t always the best. Develop a culture of care in the school, make sure staff and children look after resources and avoid being wasteful.

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

Sales calls and being chased to commit.

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?

A colleague in another school told me about WebFMS (now Smart Connect) – has saved so much admin time since we have been using it.

Tell us about an hour of your day today

Meeting with a direct report, interrupted by someone urgently needing my attention, coming back to my desk trying to remember where I left off, visitor arrives… and repeat.

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

How local authorities vary in the level of support offered.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an SBM?

Being able to make a difference to a young person’s experience at school by making sure the school is appropriately resourced.

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

Whatever suits the school… I have worked in the “same” role within three different schools. In each one I have had been utilised differently – all schools are different.

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

Important – most strategies involve resources of some sort, who best to advise on the availability of such resources than the SBM. I also think I add a completely different viewpoint.

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

A strong relationship is critical, you’ll need to both have the same vision in mind.

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

Trust, candour and knowing when to challenge and when to tow the line.

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

  • Prioritise and focus on the school’s weaknesses first – if the school has a rising deficit for example, or staff performance issues.
  • Remember you are only one person so you will need to use your time wisely – delegate where you can.
  • Keep a diary so next year you will know what comes up when.

How do you handle a bad day at the office?

Rationalise, compartmentalise and remember tomorrow is another day!

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


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

You can find me at @MissLongSBM and I should start a hashtag really… #overheardinschools