Bank on your bursar

Professional training for school business managers is freeing up headteachers to focus on teaching. Jill Parkin reports

Remember the days when school bursars were either large-bosomed women in silk suits or retired wing-commanders recruited because they looked so good on the school notepaper?

The times they are a-changing in school leadership, and so is the role of bursar. With the changes comes a new training programme with its own qualification.

The National College for School Leadership has just launched the diploma for school business management (DSBM) aimed at helping bursars move into the leadership team and help manage school improvement.

The pilot programme finished in November with 70 graduates. The qualification is a second stage to the NCSL's certificate for school business management (CSBM).

All very grand-sounding, but some new-breed bursars are disappointed with the reception that their professional training gets in school.

Heather du Quesnay, NCSL's outgoing chief executive, believes the training makes sound leadership sense. "Better trained, highly motivated bursars, acting at a sufficiently senior level, play a key role in improving school standards by freeing heads and other members of the school's leadership team from a wide range of management tasks so that they can focus on teaching and learning," she says.

Gaining qualifications has made a difference both financially and in terms of her school role to Wendy Keenan, senior administrator at the 344-pupil Pinhoe Church of England combined school in Exeter. She enrolled on the pilot diploma course in September 2003 after completing the CSBM.

"My school recognised my achievement in gaining the certificate by an increase in salary and a more structured job description," she says.

"It has opened my eyes, helping me to understand what the management of change in schools can mean and how I could best move forward personally and organisationally.

"My head has recognised a change in my confidence and competencies and has now invited me to become a member of the senior management team.

"As school administrator and business manager, my role in contributing to the school's effectiveness lies within my role as facilitator, making things happen according to a plan, to agreed standards, having an overview of the consistency of standards, and knowing how to benchmark these standards."

But one bursar, from a middle school in Worcestershire, praises the CSBM training but says many heads still do not recognise the work of bursars even though they increase their responsibilities.

The bursar, who started her course in May 2003 and wants to remain anonymous, says: "What impact has the training had? A straw poll among my cohort of graduates would suggest that while most of us enjoyed the course and benefited greatly in terms of knowledge and self-confidence, the fact remains that there is still little recognition or reward for the jobs we do.

"While some graduates have been appointed to the leadership team (usually in secondary schools), most of us have gradually taken on additional responsibility, as yet without appropriate remuneration. There is an increasing sense of frustration that the principles behind the course are not yet being applied at school level.

"On a more positive note, I think that all graduates now have very clear ideas about how our roles could be developed for the benefit of our schools, which is surely something that should be cultivated sooner, rather than later."

The diploma - a mixture of residential and private study - takes between six and 12 months. It is aimed at school business managers who already hold the CSBM and have at least five years' experience. The diploma is accredited by the Institute of Administrative Management and funded by the Department for Education and Skills.

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