During the week commencing 8th November 2021, @SBLConnect polled School Business Leaders on the following question:
What do Headteachers & Governing Boards need to do right now, to retain SBLs in the profession?
The possible answers were:
Increase SBL pay
Offer flexible working
Offer meaningful CPD
Manage SBL workload
This was the third in a new series of opinion polls that SBLConnect are 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. The number of responses we receive is growing week-on-week. We are a powerful and growing voice.
You can find out more about SBLVoice on our website www.sblconnect.com/voice, where you can also find the results of our other polls.
We placed our poll on the @SBLConnect Twitter account, which has 1857 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 48 hours and in that time we received a total of 576 reponses.
The results have been split to show the differing opinions of the audiences of the three different social media platforms. In this poll, for the first time, results across all 3 platforms are broadly in agreement. The only marked contract is the higher response rate for ‘Increase SBL pay’ among the Facebook group (44.9%) in contrast to Twitter users (26.6%) and LinkedIn (27.3). Our assumption is that the Facebook group contains a high proportion of primary SBLs, where SBL pay is a known issue.
Chart One shows the percentage split of responses, using a colour bar
Chart Two shows the number of responses, split by audience group:
Chart Three shows the percentage split across all respondents:
Written by ‘Whitehead SBM’ (School Business Leader, N West England)
Our previous opinion poll focused on mental health and levels of stress amongst School Business Leaders. We have risen to the challenges of Covid-19 and are now, arguably, paying the price. The strain of maintaining services during a pandemic has taken its toll on school staff. In schools where staffing is already stretched as tightly as a drum, our ability as business leaders to adapt, learn and deliver (always deliver!) can surely only be sustained for a certain period of time before the cracks start to show.
We know this.
For this poll, the question looks towards the future. I think we know where we are as a profession. But what do Headteachers and Governing Boards need to do right now, to retain the skills that have become even more critical over recent months?
You were asked to choose:
A manageable workload
Imagine you are looking at a new job. We saw one advertised this week – a strategic role in a primary school, to be delivered over 15 hours a week with a starting salary of around £10,000. My son (graduate, age 23) earns more at the local farm shop. Until the DfE starts to fund primary schools adequately this scenario will appear all too often. Our skills are strategic and worth far more than this.
Over a third of us (34.5%) voted for an increase in pay to retain your skills in the profession and I completely agree; our role demands a unique blend of skills, and the broad range of responsibilities including the management of significant budgets, should be adequately rewarded in order to attract and retain the best for our children.
And yet the majority of us – over 50% - voted for a manageable workload instead.
Suggesting perhaps that no matter how much more we were paid, the factor that will tip the balance between staying in the profession and looking elsewhere, is the day to day pressure which currently shows no sign of easing.
I wonder how many of us have been able to express this to our Headteachers and the Governing Bodies to whom most of us report on a regular basis?
How many of us have been 10% braver and articulated the need for extra resources (time – staff – space – support) in order to operate effectively in this strange new world?
I would wager that your headteacher probably knows one business leader – you. One voice. We saw an article published yesterday with the results of the NAHT survey, highlighting the issue of business leaders leaving the profession, and describing it as a ‘hidden crisis’. Why is it hidden? Because we are often alone in our role in school, and just too good at coping, seeking the answers, being the first to solve the problem, and – crucially – not complaining, often because we know all too well the strain that school budgets are under.
Let’s look at the other two choices in the poll, which showed drastically lower scores. 7.6% of us would be swayed by flexible working, and the number wanting meaningful CPD is so small that the number doesn’t fit into the bar on the graph. I think I understand why. Flexible working = less hours in which to manage that unmanageable workload. Meaningful CPD = eats into precious family time - and don’t even suggest that you could take a Friday afternoon along with the teaching staff.
And yet….let’s think about this. Until we truly value ourselves and bring our own needs into the spotlight, will the other factors of workload and pay ever be heard? A profession without continuous learning and development – and therefore improvement – is arguably just another operational function. Could some elements of our demanding workload perhaps be managed more effectively, with dedicated time to concentrate without interruption – facilitated by a more flexible approach to working?
I voted for workload too. It’s an issue, right now, that needs to be addressed. But if the question is around retention and therefore around the future of the profession, perhaps we should - as my son’s art teacher once said – bring about change by starting to look the other way. Our Headteachers and Governors will never know the strain we are under, and will therefore not act, if we don’t start to value ourselves and make our voices heard.
“We are the change that we seek”.
Whitehead SBM 12.11.21
SBLVoice Discussion Points - by Hilary Goldsmith
If workload is the overwhelming issue for SBLs right now, whose responsibility is it to address this issue? The NAHT are calling on the government to intervene, but does the government have the desire or will, or indeed remit, to manage staff workload in it’s schools? Is workload and wellbeing a local issue or a national one? Who can help?
Where is the pressure coming from to complete every task, perfectly, on time? Does the SBL’s innate desire to set high standards and be exemplary means that they do not apply the wellbeing practices and workload restrictions to themselves, which they regularly apply to their own teams?
What can SBLS do? Have we spoken to line managers, governors and Trusts about our workload issues? Have we asked for help or carried the burden alone? Can we take our own selves out of the equation and view the problem as a resource management issue to be addressed?
Have we spoken to our Unions or professional bodies to ask for their help in addressing and managing the problems we are facing? Why not? If we have, what have those bodies done? Whose role is it to resolve this issue? Are we banging on the right (if any) doors?
Is there more that we can do ourselves? Do we have the tools and skills to manage our workloads better? To prioritise, delegate and resource support when needed? If not, what are the next steps? Or what training do we need to source in order to help us do this effectively?
Are we reporting our workload issues to anyone? Have we analysed our own capacity and devised a solution? Are the workload demands temporary and Covid-related? Do we need to increase our staffing to manage workload in the short-to-medium term? Or is this forever?
Have we, as traditional workload backstops and budget conservators, accepted our fate as workhorses, or is there more we can proactively do to resolve it? Why haven’t we gone to our governing bodies and requested additional staffing? Have we already decided we can’t afford it? Is that our call, or someone else's?
Where does this current situation leave the future of our profession? Where will new SBLs come from and what message are we sending to future or aspiring professionals? And what are we, as a profession, going to do about it?
We cannot continue to wait for someone to make things happen on behalf of our profession. Let’s harness our individual and collective #SBLVoice and force that National Conversation.