SBM Life Q&A by Sarah Jones

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

I’m the School Business Manager of a large secondary school in Surrey.

How long have you been an SBM?

This will be my 10th year!

What was your path to SBM?

I worked in consultancy in the City. Took a career break to have my family. Started working part time in the office of the nursery my children attended, became office assistant at the local infant school, started taking SBM qualifications then began to move around in the primary sector (experiencing junior, primary, academy, maintained and VA) before starting at secondary school this year!

I completed CSBM, DSBM, CIPFA L4 finance and the ISBL bridging module to help on the journey.

How would you describe the role of an SBM?

Varies, challenging, exciting, rewarding, fun and never dull.

What are the 5 top key elements of your role?

Finance, H&S, premises management, strategic development/opportunity identifier, provider of emergency tissues and chocolate.

What characteristics do you believe make for a Smart SBM?

  • Resilience, practicality, ability to translate a vision into reality, creativity, approachability.

Why do schools need an SBM?

Professional advice, resource management, making sure the environment is safe and fit for purpose, ensuring teachers have the tools to do their jobs and developing the school to ensure it is futureproof to meet the needs of pupils and the community.

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

Hahahahahahahahaha……..next.

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

Be organised – filing is crucial, have a to-do list (but be prepared to throw it out of the window at a moment’s notice) and diarise EVERYTHING (but see above).

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

Always, ALWAYS ask if a supplier can do it for a better price. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Use the power of networking and recommendations. Be honest with suppliers about what you are wanting to achieve – get them to buy into your vision. Take a step back periodically and ask if something could be done a different way to save money.

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

Getting three quotes. I know it is completely necessary and I understand why it is needed. It does however take a lot of time and effort and slows down progress.

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?

There is no such thing as a stupid question and someone, somewhere will have encountered this and can give you a useful steer. The SBMs I know are amazing people – approachable, positive, friendly, hugely knowledgeable and experienced – and they are willing to share unconditionally. I have no qualms in exploiting them all!!

Tell us about an hour of your day today

Coffee, quick conversation with one of my rugby players (I’m first aider for son’s rugby team and one of the team attends my school) about a rugby injury.  Then caught up with Deputy Head about ICT review/developments. Caught up with EVC about a trip management timetable, left message for lawyers about an issue, tea, got lost on the new site…

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

I have been in this game so long that nothing surprises me anymore!

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a SBM?

Working with the most amazing group of people making a difference to children’s lives. It is a cliché I know but I don’t care. Children constantly make me laugh. I love the feeling of achieving something (e.g. a successful grant bid) that means we CAN have some previously unreachable equipment. The feeling of successfully completing a task e.g. year end is also pretty good…. I always feel that the computer should do a shower of confetti or something when you finally hit the button to close!

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

Couldn’t give two hoots. There are bigger things to worry about.  Just don’t call me a bursar.

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

Vital. Being open, honest and flexible in understanding the challenges all members of the team are facing is key to working together and moving forward in a constructive fashion. How can SLT work together planning the direction of travel if they don’t understand the finances or premises requirements? There is no point planning on spending all the budget on new IT if the roof is about to fall in.  It’s called a team for a reason.

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

Vital.  One sets the vision and leads the organisation, and one manages the business to achieve the vision. Neither one can do their job properly without the full buy-in of the other.

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

It needs to be founded on honesty and trust. Once that is gone it won’t work. The Head needs to be keeping the SBM in the loop about what is going on/issues, so that can inform the other areas of SBM work, and the SBM needs to be open about issues on the horizon. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.

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

Don’t underestimate this role. Standing still is not an option. The world of school business management is seeing change at what I think is an unprecedented rate within an education sector in the grip of significant challenge. You will need to network and develop professionally to keep pace but you must never, ever lose focus on the fact you are working with the rest of the school stakeholders to improve the life chances of the children in your care. 

How do you handle a bad day at the office?

I want to say yoga, meditation and self-reflection but anyone who knows me knows that gin is usually the answer! I do have some wonderful mates on twitter who have talked me down from the metaphorical ledge a number of times, and fantastic family and friends who provide much needed sanity and perspective. Tomorrow is always another day.

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

See above re: gin! I do try to exercise when I can. I also love laughing, meeting up with friends, cooking and reading.

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

I am a very sporadic blogger but write under accidentalbusinessmanager.wordpress.com. Random musings rarely of value but they keep me amused!