There have been big changes in our expectations of school leaders in the years since business managers first appeared as members of school management teams. Increasingly, headteachers report that their role in leading learning and raising standards is growing in complexity. New partnerships, internal and external, are now required to ensure that the educational experience of all young people is of high quality. So it seems a good time for business managers to review and develop the contribution they can offer to support school systems and school leaders.
In Continuing to Build Excellence in Teaching, the Scottish Government's response to the Donaldson report on teacher education, it says there is a need for a "genuinely collective" effort to put excellence in teaching at the heart of Scottish education. To succeed in this, the report describes the need for everyone involved in the delivery of school education to maintain a focus on activities that make a difference to children's learning.
Everyone is aware of the added value that comes from the professional skills of business managers in areas such as human resources, finance and administration, but less well understood is the contribution they can make to the creation of a positive and inclusive learning environment.
In the best circumstances, where there is a culture of engagement, business managers can play a key role in meeting the challenge of educational reform, building staff capacity to act creatively and innovatively, and supporting effective planning and resource management for best value. They can work with teaching colleagues to seek new opportunities for engagement in the wider community, and to build partnerships across professional boundaries. They can support other colleagues through offering coaching, mentoring and high-quality professional review and development.
They help to develop systems that focus on what matters and ensure all staff can spend their time on what gives best value to learners. And, crucially, they model best practice in terms of reviewing and planning their own professional learning and engaging in collegial learning opportunities.
The environment in our schools is very different today from 15 years ago, when the first business managers took up post, but the need for their expertise is greater than ever. They need to push the boundaries of practice in ever more innovative and creative ways in response to changing political and economic drivers for change. By doing this, they can offer a steadying hand in some of the stormy waters that lie ahead.
Margaret Alcorn will speak at the first national conference on School Business Managers in Scotland: Efficiency, Effectiveness and Excellence, 8 June in Edinburgh. www.mackayhannah.com.