Making the most of a mantra by Emma Gray

My team and I like to use a few pithy mantras in our office. They help us get through the day, they remind us of the priorities, give us some focus and, in the words of Kipling, they allow us to keep our heads when all around are losing theirs! 

I’ve even threatened to come in one Saturday and paint them in beautiful script on the finance office walls but

  1. a) I know the Caretaker would be displeased
  2. b) I’m not that good at Art!

The mantra I personally find most useful is;

Finance First

You’d think as a School Business Manager I would not need to be reminded of this but we all know that it is REALLY easy to get caught up in the nonsense (as a previous Head used to call it) that surrounds our role in school leadership. Yes, that blocked drain needs clearing; yes, keeping the staff room topped up with break time supplies is vital; and yes, that Mount Everest of other little jobs on the to-do list will need to get done at some point, but it should all pale into insignificance behind the core role of the SBL, managing and monitoring your school’s income and expenditure.

You might have noticed that I don’t often write about finance. I’ve always had the feeling that to be an effective SBM you have to be good with the numbers, it’s a no-brainer. Whether you enjoy them or not is a different matter but most of the SBLs I’ve met seem to have the finance covered and would rather read about how to assert themselves and their role, promote their skills, improve their wellbeing and make the most of their time to improve educational outcomes in their school.

I’m a typical SBM, I enjoy the numbers but they are just one of those things that I get on with and are part of my day-to-day, I have routines in place and they are not moveable. I draw comfort from following the policy ‘rules’ – separation of duties, authorisation levels, three quotes, recording and receipting. It would be so easy to cut corners when you are up against it but I always think if you are willing to cut one corner it will not be long before you are looking at a circle!

I do actually enjoy getting buried in the numbers and believe there is nothing more delightful than a balancing budget or a zero difference on a reconciliation spreadsheet but I know occasionally it can be hard to focus and we’ll be side-swiped by something major. It’s an occupational hazard of working in a school, but I learnt a valuable lesson long ago that you neglect the finance function at your own personal peril!

So, I aim to use all the support tools that are now freely available to me in my finance role. Ordering support such as Smart Ordering and the Schools Buying Hubs, Benchmarking and the ICFP metrics, all help us get the most out of our meagre budgets. Also, think about how you can work with other schools to achieve economies of scale. It doesn’t have to take a lot of your time, but it is amazing how much you can save. 

Now, does anyone want to come in on the flatbed quantity of toilet tissue I need to purchase?