What does a Primary School Business Manager do?

What does a Primary School Business Manager do?

Primary schools. An integral part of the education system. There are almost 21,000 of them across the UK currently which means, give or take, an almost equal amount of SBMs working their socks off to support.

These are places where children learn some of the most important lessons in their young life. The teachers are equipping the pupils with the skills they need to progress through secondary education and grow in to successful, respectable adults. What impact comes from the people behind the scenes though?

This article details exactly what School Business Managers do, including key duties and typical characteristics, plus what qualifications are needed in the job.


Key duties and responsibilities of a School Business Manager

If you undertake a role as a School Business Manager, what can you expect to get up to? Here are some of the key roles and responsibilities that make up a typical SBM job description:

Key job responsibilities

  • Lead on financial policy of the school, advising the head teacher and governors
  • Plan budget spend of school, controlling costs and reducing where necessary
  • Order goods and services, building relationships with suppliers and contractors to source the best value for money
  • Pay staff salaries
  • Keep thorough accounts of school spend in preparation for any inspections or audits

Reports to: Primarily the Head teacher, but also governors, and local authority and government departments

Other duties also include:

  • Manage the school’s support staff, offering training where requiring and recruiting new team members
  • Handle school maintenance, with involvement in any repairs to school buildings or property
  • Handle all school service contracts and oversee tenders for services such as cleaning, catering, and IT support
  • Uphold school security and health and safety policies
  • Take ownership of the school's administrative systems

Ultimately, SBMs find themselves working across mange areas:

  • Leadership and strategy
  • Finance management
  • Administrative management
  • Management of information systems
  • Human resources
  • Facility and property management and maintenance
  • Health and safety


Qualifications needed for School Business Management

School Business Management is heavily based on finances, so previous experience or qualifications in the area are commonplace in people applying for roles in this field. There are a few avenues open to those wishing to apply for a role of SBM.



You could undertake a degree-level qualification that is heavily aligned with the role. Typically, SBMs have degrees in:

  • Accountancy
  • Business management
  • Public administration
  • Human resources

To apply for a relevant university course, you generally need between one and three A levels, depending on whether you apply at foundation degree level or degree level.


Work your way up

Alternatively, you could start in a more entry-level position with the view to securing a School Business Manager role in the future. Start in a role as a school administrator or secretary, then over time look to apply for an SBM position.

For this, you’ll need at least 5 GCSEs, including English and maths. To further improve your chances of career growth, you could undertake diploma qualifications once you’re in a school administrative position. Take a look at:

  • ILM Level 4 Diploma in School Business Management
  • ILM Level 5 Diploma in School Business Leadership

The best place to head for qualifications such as these is the Institute of School Business Leadership.



One final route to an SBM role is via apprenticeships. These could be broad business administrator positions or more tailored school business professional apprenticeships. Depending on your experience and qualifications, you’ll find a certification that can help you on your path. Look out for:

  • Business administrator advanced apprenticeship
  • School business professional higher apprenticeship
  • School Administration Foundation Certificate
  • Diploma for School Business Managers

For those already in school administrative roles, higher-level apprenticeships exist that can help you move into an SBM role or other school leadership position. Look out for the Diploma for School Business Leaders or Senior Leaders Masters Degree Apprenticeship.

For all these apprenticeships, a great place to head is the SBM Partnership.


How much do School Business Managers earn?

The British government’s national careers service estimates some of the conditions of the School Business Manager role. They say the following:

  • Average salary: £25,000-£65,000 per year (based on experience)
  • Typical hours: 35-39 hours a week
  • Could be expected to work evenings

From our experience speaking to SBMs across the UK, the pressures and intensity of the role mean you’re likely to exceed the government’s estimated hours, especially during busy periods. Note that often SBMs work when teachers and pupils are having an end of term break too.


What it takes to be a good School Business Manager

If you’re looking to hone your skillset for school business management, or you’re applying for roles, what skills do you need to highlight on your CV?

A good SBM will excel at:

  • Leadership
  • Business management
  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility
  • Financial skills (or excelling at maths)
  • Competent computing skills

Beyond these very work-focused competencies, what kind of person do you need to be to excel in the role? In our survey, we asked 70 UK-based SBMs what personality traits are essential to being a good SBM. The top five most mentioned were:

  • Calm
  • Patience
  • Sense of humour
  • Flexibility
  • Organisation

The demands on the modern day SBM require them to undertake jobs that stretch far beyond the original job spec. As workloads build-up, SBMS are required to be flexible but also relaxed and able to work under pressure. A sense of calm and a humour will go a long way to working through tricky moments in the job. 

School Business Managers within a Primary setting have an incredibly difficult job. The Primary SBM is renowned for buying in to an ‘all hands-on deck’ mentality, mucking in on every aspect of school life. Summed up perfectly to us by Michelle Cassar, SBM at Westerton Primary Academy in Wakefield, “I’ll unblock toilets. If we’re short in the kitchen, I might serve dinners!”

Every School Business Manager we’ve ever had the pleasure to meet has always been keen to show their passion for education, alongside examples like the one above to help the school succeed in any way possible. The children’s learning is still at the centre of every decision they make, even if some of those decisions ultimately have to be made with the head and not the heart.


What School Business Managers say about their job

This was summed up by Nemi Fisher, “Although I’m a School Business Manager, I see our children. They know me and I know them. Watching them grow throughout the years and being part of that, is really rewarding for me personally.” Nemi loves her work at Clapham & Patching Primary School in Worthing.

Whilst School Business Managers’ time is often taken up by balancing budgets and organising funds (albeit limited) for payroll, utilities and contracts – they know that keeping the school running is vital to every single Primary School pupil in their care. Yes, their care too.

Ask any School Business Manager and you’ll get the same answer; working in a school is so much more than just managing the business aspect.

Michelle Toy, SBM of Rodney House School in Manchester gave us her view on this, “You have a passion when you work in a school, you want to do your best and help the children. That’s what it comes down to really, the outcomes of the children. Providing the best education for them.”

We could write a list as long as our arm about the more obvious jobs that SBMs do within a Primary setting (HR, finance, procurement, H&S etc etc…) but in reality, they do so much more beneath the surface.

The SBM keeps the setting running smoothly to improve outcomes for every single child that comes through the school. When called upon, they get hands-on in the day-to-day. They council. They fight for more funding. They challenge to improve the school. They unblock toilets. They set a 3-year financial strategy. They ensure the building is standing. They communicate to Governors and parents. The list is endless…