Bursar who pays her way

Graeme Paton

Admin staff with business acumen have valuable contributions to make to schools. Graeme Paton reports.

It is a little village primary school with just 150 pupils and a budget of only pound;300,000 - certainly not the kind of school you would expect to see hiring its own business manager.

But St Chad's Church of England primary in Pattingham, just outside Wolverhampton, has suddenly got wise to the opportunities that someone with a smattering of business acumen can bring.

In the past seven months, the school's bursar, Sue Simcock, has generated and saved more than pound;30,000 in St Chad's annual budget, an increase of some 10 per cent .

Jane Nicklin, the headteacher who would normally be required to shoulder the school's book-keeping burden, said: "Some primary schools of this size might think it is uneconomical to have their own business manager, but we have proved that Sue is more than worth her weight in gold."

Mrs Simcock has already managed to generate pound;28,000 in grants, including pound;18,000 for new windows and almost pound;5,000 to improve pedestrian access to the school.

She has saved pound;4,450 by devising new arrangements for school transport and shaved pound;2,450 from the school's outgoings by renegotiating contracts with suppliers.

But, according to the National College for School Leadership, highly trained school business managers like Mrs Simcock are a relative rarity.

Too often schools' finances remain solely in the hands of headteachers and are often left in an "amateurish" state.

In 2001, a teacher workload study by PricewaterhouseCoopers identified serious gaps in the administrative and bursarial support for headteachers.

Estelle Morris, the then education secretary, said that the Government would train an extra 1,000 bursars by 2006.

The national college says it has already surpassed the target.

So far, 1,058 people have completed its two specialist bursar programmes, although many headteachers are still reluctant to relinquish their power over school budgets.

Tony Richardson, NCSL's director of programmes, said: "Schools, with ever-increasing responsibilities and devolved budgets, should not be running their administration as an amateurish exercise - it needs to be professionally organised."

Mrs Simcock, who was first employed at St Chad's seven years ago as a receptionist, said: "When I arrived, I was told by the previous head that there wouldn't be enough for me to do.

"I was told to bring a book to keep me entertained when I wasn't signing in visitors or answering the phone.

"But over the years I have built up the position.

"Now, if anything, I am too busy. It is just being aware of the sort of opportunities out there - even for a school of this size."


* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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