During the week commencing 25th October 2021, @SBLConnect polled School Business Leaders on the following question:
Do you think all SBL jobs should have a minimum Level 4 qualification requirement for all applicants?
The possible answers were:
Yes, and that qualification should be in place prior to appointment.
Yes, but that qualification could be studied once in post.
This was the first in a new series of opinion polls that SBLConnect will be running as part of our new #SBLVoice programme. We hope that SBLVoice will become a resource and a mouthpiece for the School Business Leadership profession - a place where all school business professionals can voice their opinions on topics relevant to our profession, and most importantly, where they will be heard.
You can find out more about SBLVoice on our website www.sblconnect.com/voice.
We placed our poll on the @SBLConnect Twitter account, which has 1825 followers, on the ‘School Business Managers UK’ group on Facebook (1,200 members) and the ‘School Business Manager (UK)’ group on LinkedIn (4,351). The poll was posted for 24 hours and in that time we received a total of 340 responses.
The results have been split to show the very differing opinions of the audiences of the three different social media platforms. Whilst there is clearly some crossover of members, there was a distinct split in opinion between the three groups, which is fascinating. This is something we will be exploring further with future polls.
Chart One shows the number of responses, split by audience group:
Chart Two shows the percentage split across all respondents:
by Hilary Goldsmith, founder and CEO, SBL Connect
This was a fascinating poll to run as our first excursion into opinion polling. I really hope that as the SBLVoice programme continues to grow, some clear themes emerge about the current issues and opinions of our SBL community. SBLs have long struggled with being heard. I hope that this new venture will give us a vehicle with which we can harness views, encourage debate around the key topics, and help formulate a useful knowledge bank and resource.
The choice of this particular question as an opener was deliberate, and one which has interested me for some time. We are starting to unpack the issues around parity of SBL pay, the diversity of the roles across a variety of settings, and the ongoing call for SBLs to be recognised and valued as senior leaders. There are many barriers to equality for SBLs which need to be addressed, and one of these is often cited as SBLs not being taken seriously as professionals. My argument on that front has always been that an SBL is an experienced and skilled professional, qualified to give and make complex decisions at leadership level, within their prescribed and specialised areas, A qualification in those disciplines has always seemed to me to be an obvious tool to use as evidence of competence when these issues arise.
Note: I have not explored the notion of ‘qualification by experience’ in this particular piece of work, but should make it clear that I would absolutely accept evidence of relevant professional experience as an acceptable alternative to a formal qualification, for those applicants with extensive or transferable experience from within or outside the sector.
What is clear from the results of this opinion poll, however, is that there is a split opinion about whether or not SBLs should even be required to undertake professional training at a level higher than A level.
45.6% of respondents, most of whom we assume are already practising School Business Leaders, believe that no formal qualification should be a prerequisite of entry to the profession.
The remaining 54.4% believe there should be, with a further 48% of that group believing that qualification can be gained once in post.
I was very surprised to see that such a high proportion of SBLs did not think that a professional qualification was essential in order to take on responsibility for managing a school’s support services, especially when that role involves the management of school budgets, accounting, contract procurement, HR, Health & Safety legislation and legal compliance.
Within the Facebook group, the split of opinion is even starker, with 58% of respondents not seeing the need for any formal qualification for the role. This may well be because some of those practitioners are working at operational middle management levels, with others above them, perhaps at Trust level, bearing the corporate responsibility for those key areas. This brings with it a whole new question about the title of School Business Manager, or Leader, and who should be able to use it. But that is a question for another day.
For me, the key discussion points which this poll creates are these:
If SBLs are to be taken seriously as leaders, should they not possess a qualification at least comparable to their counterparts? Remember that entry to the teaching profession as a NQT requires at least a level 6 professional qualification.
Is the argument for higher pay for SBLs actively damaged by a seeming reluctance to put in the academic ‘hard work’ required to achieve an evidenced professional standard of competence? We can’t have it both ways, after all.
What does that mean for ISBL, the institute whose core purpose is to promote professional excellence in the sector? With nearly half of SBLs seeing little value in a level 4 qualification, what motivation is there for practitioners to continue their professional development journey?
Is there an argument then, for the profession to have a minimum threshold for entry - so a requirement to hold an SBL qualification to hold the title of School Business Leader, or Manager? Would this give employers and the wider sector the reassurance it needs to know that a School Business Leader is indeed the highly skilled practitioner that the profession states that they are.
Could we develop a link between professional qualification level and pay banding? If job descriptions for the requirements of the school setting could be created and matched to the qualification level and/or professional standards required for the post, it would seemingly be possible to create a pay band equivalence for SBLs operating at similar levels across the country.
These are the questions that immediately jumped out at me, and I would encourage and welcome other SBLs to engage and discuss these ideas openly.
I would really love to hear your opinions and maybe we can then start to formulate our own policies for how we move forward as a profession. Please add your comments either on our website, or on your preferred social media platform, where this blog post has been shared,
We have waited too long for someone to make things happen on behalf of our profession. Let’s use our individual and collective #SBLVoice and start that National Conversation.