How to work with teachers as a school business manager by Sarah Jones & Philippa Leah

What is the perfect recipe for magic in schools? A pinch of vision. A jug of teamwork and a bucketload of hard work. And it’s teamwork in education between teachers and the SBM that can be one of the most underrated aspects of this recipe.

As a school business manager, the natural instinct can be to stay in the office grappling with the budget trying to make the sums work but it is so important to get out and about and see what is going on in the classroom. I know my strengths and my role in school. My job is to make sure that everything is in place for teachers to do their job effectively and ultimately provide the best education possible for our students.


Sarah’s view: the teacher knows best for the classroom

I see the fact that I am not a teacher as a strength, and I try to use it in my favour. I ask questions to teachers regularly. What does that mean? Why do you do that? What do you need? In asking these questions I can get a real understanding of what is going on in the classroom, what the pressures are, what would make it better. I use this information to look for ways we can achieve it together.

What is also helpful in this vein is explaining the aspects of my role to teachers so they begin to understand how I can help them and the pressures that are being faced by the school. This approach has led me to getting involved in various projects with teachers and not only have they been great fun; what we have delivered has been more than a sum of its parts.

I had a chance conversation with Philippa Leah, who is a literacy lead, about the dire state of the school library at our previous school. We discussed the need to focus on nurturing a love of reading, impacts on pupil outcomes across all areas and improved attendance.

This conversation led me and our very talented caretaker, to redecorate the library over the summer holidays at minimal cost. This had huge impact on the whole school, in ways I couldn’t have imagined; reading levels increased and attendance improved. Working together, Philippa and I achieved far more than we would have alone and what’s more, we had fun doing it!


Philippa’s view: understanding the role of the school business manager and the power of teamwork

Before Sarah, I had never met a school business manager before. I had no idea what the role entailed. At our first meeting she asked me, ‘if you could do anything to the school library, anything at all - what would you do?’ I asked for more shelving and more books. A secret garden was suggested - I agreed that sounded good!

To say I was unprepared for what greeted me at the end of the holidays, would be an understatement! What Sarah and Pete, our talented caretaker, had achieved was nothing short of magical. A wooden plank door with a wrought iron handle led into a forest and stone walled wonderland, complete with toadstool table & stools, astro turf floor, a trickling waterfall and birdsong.

Immediately, the potential for increased engagement with reading was apparent. We began to publicise the school library and started building up a quality book stock to match the surroundings. We worked together to bring in funding from a variety of sources, ensuring that the stock was up-to-date and regularly replenished.

The children’s faces on seeing their new library were a joy to behold, and weekly library sessions were eagerly anticipated. Book borrowing increased dramatically, as stock losses decreased through a combination of keenness to revisit the school library and a more efficient computer management system.

People began to visit our school just to see the library, and similar libraries began springing up in other schools in our academy chain. Our teachers began to create similarly spectacular and immersive learning environments in our classrooms, which the children loved seeing as a surprise at the start of each term. We did this with minimal budgets, knowing how tight funding was but we really felt that we were targeting our spending. It felt like we were all in it together and as a result seemed to achieve more. Truly a magical recipe!

Sarah Jones is a school business manager at a large secondary school and Philippa Leah is the literacy lead at Loseley Fields Junior School in Surrey, they work together in the same multi-academy trust.


Cordwalles Junior School library (credit: Cordwalles Junior School)

Cordwalles Junior School library