During the week commencing 15th November 2021, @SBLConnect polled School Business Leaders on the following question:
How well does your Headteacher utilise and deploy your SBL skills?
The possible answers were:
My skills are fully utilised
Quite well utilised but I could offer more
I am very underutilised and unable to develop
I do not wish to develop my role or skills
This was the fourth in a new series of opinion polls that SBLConnect are running as part of our new #SBLVoice programme. SBLVoice is fast becoming 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 greater than those received by professional bodies and trade unions. 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 342 reponses.
The results have been split to show the differing opinions of the audiences of the three different social media platforms. In this poll, results across all 3 platforms are broadly in agreement, apart from the marked difference between Facebook users for options 1 and 2, when compared with the overall results. Our assumption is that the Facebook group contains a high proportion of primary SBLs, which we will explore later in this piece.
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:
Opinion & Discussion Points
The question of how well SBLs are deployed goes straight to the heart of many of the key issues of recognition and pay for School Business Leaders across the UK. For many years many of us have struggled to be recognised as senior leaders, SBL pay is a badly organised game of pot pluck, and the understanding of our role (and its potential) is largely down to the personal experience of the Headteachers and CEO’s concerned.
No two SBL job descriptions are the same, and no two schools use their SBL in the same way. Our role is to support the Headteacher in the non-teaching aspects of school leadership, and our ability to offer that support depends on three things:
The own personal skills and attributes of the SBL
The Headteacher’s personal skills and attributes
The ability/willingness of the Headteacher to allow their SBL and the SBL role to achieve their full potential
We know from our previous poll on minimum professional development standards, here that we have a very mixed view on whether or not there should be a minimum entry requirement to the profession (46% of SBLs believed that there should not). Yet in this poll, 48% of us also report that our skills are not fully utilised. So what’s the real story?
How do we explain the difference between the lack of willingness to secure professional development as standard, with a feeling of being under-utilised? Would proven professional skills, through qualifications, reassure our Heads and CEOs of our ability to operate in a highly skilled and strategic manner? Would that then allow them to place trust in the profession to take fully leadership responsibility for key areas of expertise?
Or is it more about workload? We are all too aware of the ever-increasing burden of Covid-related administration on our SBLs in-tray. Have we reached a point where we are so snowed-under by the mundane and everyday tasks that are essential yet time-consuming, that we are unable to find the time to push our roles to their full potential? I expect that many SBLs would dearly love to operate in a strategic manner, yet are stopped from doing so by the continual barrage of interruptions, low-level tasks and operational demands that everyday school life places upon us.
So what is the solution? If the additional workload is not receding, who else is going to take it on? Is it time for a re-think of our staffing structures? If our desire is to achieve SLT equivalence, yet operate at a level akin to operational managers, we are at risk of becoming overpaid administrators, and not offering the Value for Money that our role demands.
Or is the problem about our Headteachers, and a lack of understanding of our role? For many Heads, their only experience of an SBL will be their own personal interaction with the SBLs they have worked with in their careers. For many that may only be a couple of individuals. Because there is no central resource which explains or demonstrates how to deploy an effective SBL, many Heads will use their SBLs to fill the gaps in their own experience, rather than allowing their SBL to spread their wings to achieve their full potential.
Ours is a role misunderstood and undervalued by many, so what needs to happen to make that change? Should we be calling on Trade Unions to deliver training to new and aspiring Heads on the role of the SBL and how it can support them in Headship? Are the NPQ leadership qualifications broad enough when dealing with finance, HR and compliance areas of Headship, and do they use their SBL as tools to enable the development of Headteachers in those disciplines?
One extremely refreshing and reassuring outcome of the poll was that, out of all the SBLs who responded, not a single person felt that they did not want to develop. What can we read into that? It appears that we have a pool of ambitious and focused professionals, keen to operate as full senior leaders, who are being hampered by a number of barriers and circumstances which restrict their growth. This makes no economic or leadership sense.
As leaders ourselves, what can we or should we do to put our case forward for better deployment and development for ourselves? Can we take the lead in setting our own appraisal and performance targets? What should we do if we are unable to thrive in our professional environment? Why do we stay and tolerate situations in which we are frustrated and underused?
The difference in responses to the poll questions across various social media platforms was fascinating again. The majority of Twitter and LinkedIn respondents felt fully utilised in their role, and our assumption is that there is a greater number of Secondary and Trust-wide practitioners in these two groups. The Facebook polls, however, where primary SBLs appear to have predominance, shows a different story - only 44% are fully utilised, and 43% have more to offer. This untapped resource seems like such a missed opportunity for primary Headteachers and Governors, particularly those who will, by nature of school size, have a far smaller leadership team to call upon.
How can we harness the lost opportunities to support Primary Headteachers and tap into the reservoir of skills we already have within the system? Is there an intrinsic issue with an SBL offering to relieve a Headteacher of some of their role? Does it feel like a criticism if we offer to help? Do Governors understand that a lack of utilisation is a lost resource that could be harnessed to drive school improvement? How do we let them know?
And finally, where does that path lead for our profession, if we do not find a way of unleashing our full potential? We already know that workload and recognition are major factors in SBL wellbeing and longevity. If we factor in a situation where that same SBL feels undervalued and under-used, we are at risk of further demoralising the profession and offering little incentive for prospective and aspiring SBLs to join our sector.
Every School Business Leader wants to help their school and its students to thrive, achieve and succeed.
Our next goal is to ensure that every school wants to do the same for their School Business Leader.
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.