Careers - Take money in your stride

27th November 2009 at 00:00
The role of school business manager could be for you if you understand how schools operate, are good with cash and want to see it used wisely

With budgets now sometimes running into millions, schools have had to learn to operate in a businesslike manner. But that doesn't make them businesses.

"It's not about profit, it's about improving the quality of learning," explains Mandy Wilson, head of business at Parkhead Community Primary in Gateshead. "We saved #163;10,000 by renegotiating our insurance, but that money has gone straight towards an extra teaching assistant."

Ms Wilson came to the job from outside education, after a globe-trotting career with companies such as BT and American Express. She took a hefty salary cut, but says it was worth it. "I wanted to put something back into the community, instead of making rich company directors even richer."

Schools are keen to recruit people such as Ms Wilson, with experience of business, banking or accountancy. But what if you are a teacher who fancies trying their hand at the business side of things? Is there anything to stop you?

"Not at all," says Karen Hughes, of the National Association of School Business Management. "This is a job you can approach from different angles. You may have financial skills, but need to learn about education, or you may know about education, but need to brush up on business. Either way, the training is there."

The National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services offers a series of qualifications, but you need the support of a school before applying, which in all probability will mean you will be already working as a school business manager (SBM). For teachers without business experience, it makes more sense to work part-time towards a business qualification such as an MBA then apply for posts, stressing that you would be keen to do a National College course if appointed.

Schools define the role of business manager differently, and there are many different job titles. The emphasis could be on cutting costs and balancing the books or on marketing the school and raising its profile. Or you might be a "facilities manager", looking after premises, managing lettings and planning new developments. Whatever the role, never underestimate the value of an education background. SBMs need a head for figures, but they also need to understand how schools operate.

"I was a parent governor here before I became the business manager," says Angela Stansfield, of Acacias Community Primary School in Manchester. "So I knew exactly how things worked. I did have accounting skills, but more to the point, I knew how to adapt those skills to a school setting."

The National College points out that while SBMs are often part of the school leadership team, it's a very different role from deputy or assistant head, not least because it doesn't involve teaching. But if you seek a new direction, and the chance to work at a strategic level, business management is worth considering. Just because you are not in the classroom doesn't mean you are cut off from school life.

"One of my key roles is fundraising, and I recently ran a project that allowed 60 underprivileged pupils to go to Scotland for a holiday," says Ms Wilson. "Like any other job in education, the best bit of being a business manager is seeing the difference you make to children's lives."

What you need to know

- Find out more about school business management at

- Ask your local university about postgraduate MBA courses.

- Salaries can range from #163;25,000 in a primary to #163;70,000 in a large secondary.

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