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The jury's out on new superbursars

Researchers say it is not clear how effective school business managers are - as money to extend the experiment is agreed

The impact of the new breed of higher paid superbursars is still uncertain in many areas of the country. Some local authorities and schools are not supporting the role, according to those evaluating the role of school business managers.

Creating the new post has been far from smooth, says a report from Manchester University. Researchers believe the job remains "to be tested". It is more successful in schools that have already had a member of staff doing a similar job. Managers earn on average Pounds 10,000 more than a bursar - a typical salary is Pounds 35,000.

The researchers found unhelpful local authority officers or poor administrative support in school can be a barrier to the job's success.

A full evaluation will not be published until February 2010, but 12 more centres have been given funding by the National College for School Leadership to employ managers for five years (see panel).

Interim findings show some heads report 15 to 30 per cent of their time has been liberated. In total, 180 primary and secondaries employ or share one. In larger schools they can be paid up to Pounds 54,000. Some heads say the savings they identify cover the salary.

The research shows that in areas where schools share a manager, headteachers tend to co-operate more. In Durham, the business manager found Pounds 20,000 of savings in five primary schools.

Some successful managers are also attracting new sources of funding. In West Grantham, Pounds 20,000 has been found to pay for the introduction of Montessori learning.

But many managers have not found any cost savings. Stuart Gibson, manager of Chesil Education Partnership in Dorset, says it's hard to see where next year's funding for the project will come from.

"Schools might have to share business managers. But the new ICT system has proved successful and each SBM has become a 'champion' for things such as human resources, which has freed up time for headteachers," he said.

However, Toby Salt, deputy chief executive of NCSL, insisted the interim findings were "encouraging".

"All schools stand to benefit greatly from high-level school business managers. Whether emerging from special measures, operating in inner-city areas or undergoing change, the skills of an SBM will prove invaluable," he said.

Danny Eason, head of Fishburn Primary in Stockton on Tees, said his manager gave him time to write the school's literacy strategy. "They will be the biggest thing ever to retention of headteachers," he said.


Five years' money to pay for superbursars goes to:

Staffordshire Moorlands Collaborative of Schools - Leek

Loughborough Federation of Schools, Lambeth - London

North Huyton Joint Catholic and Anglican Centre - Merseyside

The John Cabot Learning Federation - Bristol

Gifford Primary School, Ealing - west London

The Five Schools Campus Andover

Wood View Learning Community - Plymouth

East Warwickshire Primary Cluster, Rugby - Warwickshire

North Warwickshire Primary and Infant Cluster - Nuneaton

Withernsea Junior School - E Riding of Yorkshire

Ashington Learning Partnership - Northumberland

Lutterworth Area Schools Association - Leicestershire.

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