What’s your job title and the name of your school?
I am the School Business Manager at The Wyvern School in Ashford, a special school for children with profound, severe and complex needs.
How long have you been an SBM?
Four years, with a little break in between when I worked for the local authority’s SEN department.
What was your path to SBM?
Long and convoluted! When I left college many moons ago I worked for Lloyds Bank for six years. Then moved to the local authority where I worked in the budget team and did my AAT qualification.
After a very short period as a bursar at a LA run youth centre, I went to work for the Attendance and Behaviour Service as an Exclusions Officer, trying to keep young people when they were at risk of exclusion, and finding alternative places for them should that not work. I did that for eight years. I loved visiting schools and decided at that point that working in a school was what I wanted to do!
I then saw my first SBM job advertised and applied, and was successful. I was there for two and half years when the opportunity came up to work for the LA with a new funding project around high needs funding in mainstream schools, I applied, got the job and stayed there for two and a half years but really missed being in school. I saw my current role advertised, and it fitted my skill set completely, school funding and SEND, the rest is history!
How would you describe the role of an SBM?
Varied, undoubtedly! We have a huge responsibility to make sure that the school runs efficiently especially in the current education climate.
What are the 5 top key elements of your role?
Finance first without a doubt – managing the budget, ensuring good value for money and that money is spent in the right areas. Premises – making sure that the site team are keeping the area safe. Building relationships – working with the rest of SLT and the staff team to ensure good working relationships and ensuring that staff feel supported. Unusually for an SBM, exams would come into this section! As a special school we don’t have reams and reams of GCSE exam entries to do, but I act as the Examinations Officer to take some admin work away from teachers. Around January/February time I deal with the entries for these. Recruitment – I work with our two ladies in HR to ensure that all recruitment is done properly.
What characteristics do you believe make for a Smart SBM?
Versatility - you’ve got to be versatile, happy to deal with any situation that you find yourself in! Resilience – every day brings different challenges and you have to be resilient to deal with these. Approachable – I will always remember the advice of the SBM I took over from in my first SBM role, “people will come to you when they are having a tough time” (and they did!) - “always be ready with a listening ear and a cuppa”. Organised – you have to be organised. There are so many parts of the role pulling you in different directions, you need to be able to prioritise.
Why do schools need an SBM?
Headteachers are under huge pressure to ensure that children are making progress and rightly should spend their time concentrating on teaching and learning. A good SBM should be able to manage the finances, look after the premises and deal with everything that ISN’T teaching and learning so that the Headteacher can concentrate on these.
Have you ever reached the bottom of your to-do list?
Never! I tend to have a short list of quick fixes and a long list of longer-term projects. I can’t imagine I will ever get to the end of that one!
What’s your top tip for saving time at work?
Be organised. I write lists, my Headteacher jokes about my constant notetaking and list making, but it helps me remember what I need to prioritise.
What’s your top tip for saving your school money?
Don’t be frightened to ask questions and challenge people. ‘We always use them’ is one response I have had, but we shouldn’t if they are more expensive.
What’s your biggest pain point when it comes to procurement?
I have two. 1) Seeking three quotes can take time and can be frustrating. 2) Salespeople! I don’t like pushy salespeople.
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?
I have learned, and continue to learn so much from my peers. I would absolutely agree that networking is invaluable. In a school one teacher can ask another teacher advice – it is much more difficult for a SBM to find a similar person in school to advise.
I have good links with the local schools in the town and we regularly bounce ideas between us via email and we meet once every two terms. The local special schools have a group that I can go to share advice and support but probably my biggest source of support, encouragement and help is #SBLtwitter. Twitter has so many SBM’s active on it and the CPD I get from them is hugely helpful. One SBM in particular was immensely supportive and helpful when I needed advice around risk assessments, that will stay with me for a long time.
Tell us about an hour of your day today
Staff briefing at 8.45 on a Friday is always about celebrating success of the week. It is always lovely to hear steps of progress that particular children have made. I always try and get along to it. Following that it was down to the primary office to help with an HR issue. Back to the finance office to go through some invoices that needed checking before paying. A behaviour incident in the corridor and making sure that the colleagues dealing with it were ok.
What’s the last thing, professionally, that surprised you?
The inconsistency in funding between schools.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an SBM?
Knowing that what you do essentially supports the teaching and learning of every child in the school. In a special school that resonates even more deeply in that you are helping the children learn life skills that will stay with them forever and give them the best opportunities when they leave.
SBM, SBP or SBL – where do you stand on the title?
I am leaning towards SBL, we are leaders after all, encouraging others to follow our example.
How do you see the role of SBM within the SLT?
Absolutely key. The rest of the SLT need to know what position the school is in financially, and I need to know what they are discussing and what their plans are to be able to budget appropriately.
How important do you think the Headteacher / SBM relationship is?
Hugely important. You need to have an honest and open working relationship. You need to be able to read their mind too!
What do you think is the key to a good Headteacher / SBM relationship?
Trust. A good sense of humour is also essential!
What advice would you give to someone new coming into an SBM role?
Take your time learning about the school, the budget, the personalities around school. Keep your caretaker/site manager on side!
How do you handle a bad day at the office?
Loud music in the car on the way home and probably chocolate. Tomorrow is another day.
What do you do to de-stress after a long day at school?
In the winter months I like to read, in the summer months you will find me in the garden.
If you have one, tell us about your blog/book?
I have a fairly new blog, https://specialsbm.blog and I’m a regular on twitter @SpecialSBM.