Held to account
School secretaries, bursars and finance officers can now boost their professional development and career prospects through a new qualification combining specific financial and management skills.
National vocational qualifications in school administration should be available later this year at levels two to four after the Department for Education and Employment commissioned a study to look at the occupational skills required in the running of a school.
The six-month study initially focused on primary schools where it found a significant number of people who might be eligible for a qualification in administration, as well as others with administrative skills who required further grounding in finance.
Professor Bill Harrison of Sheffield Hallam University, who co-ordinated the study, says small primary schools often only have a part-time secretary which means the head takes responsibility for accounts. There are also problems in secondary schools, he says.
"The way that schools are moving, it's clearly sensible for a number of administrative staff to be capable of dealing with financial matters."
A series of workshops held earlier this year looked at the key functions demanded of financial and administrative staff and recommended the new qualifications, which combine existing national vocational qualification standards. Details of the new qualification are due to be circulated by the DFEE in preparation for a launch this autumn.
While the new level two NVQ in school administration draws entirely from the existing NVQ, the new level three and four NVQs will each also include two units from the NVQ in accountancy.
Level four will be aimed at bursars and will include nine mandatory units (seven covering administration and two on accountancy). Among the subjects covered are procedures to meet organisational needs, decision-making, working relationships, cost analysis and budgetary control systems.
Level three has 10 mandatory and one optional unit. These include preparing reports and returns, using spreadsheets, interpreting data for use in a computer system and researching and providing information.
Many bursars and administrators will already be carrying out tasks along these lines, says Professor Harrison, but that does not mean they cannot improve their performance.
The qualifications, which can be gained by collecting evidence about what they do in their job, will also allow them to move on to other posts either within or outside education.
Mervin Sharp, bursar at Kelsey Park Boys School in Bromley, agrees that an NVQ is a good idea but says many bursars are already looking to do more advanced qualifications, such as MBAs.
Most grant-maintained and an increasing number of local authority schools are appointing bursars, although their range of duties and salaries can vary considerably.
While some are effectively little more than finance officers, others cover areas such as personnel and legal matters.
"You need to be a little bit of a solicitor, an accountant and a health and safety officer," says Mr Sharp, a former company managing director.
David Jones, a development manager at the DFEE, says the original plan was to offer school staff NVQs in administration with a further diploma if they also gained the accountancy units. However, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications said it was willing to accredit an NVQ in school administration in its own right. "It's a recognition that the bursar's role in schools is unique."
Depending on a person's experience, the new qualification could be gained in a year, with bodies such as BTEC, RSA and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Exam Board keen to offer the new qualifications.
RSA is offering a similar qualification to school support staff in Birmingham. Six candidates have so far gained the certificate in educational administration.
* BTEC, Central House, Upper Woburn Place, London WC1H 0HH * LCCI Exam Board, Marlowe House, Station Road, Sidcup, Kent DA15 7BJ * RSA Exam Board, Westwood Way, Coventry CV4 8HS * National Association of Administra-tive Staff in Schools and Colleges (formerly the School Secretaries Association) exists to help break down the isolation of school administrators (Doreen Hancox 0121 444 2150).
* Grant Maintained Bursars Association (General Secretary Peter Rickard 01460 65628).
Job file:What do bursars do?
* Terms and conditions: various; may work in school holidays.
* Job description: varies according to sizenature of school but may cover financial control, income generation, site management, purchasing and tenders, supervision of non-teaching staff, staff contracts and other legal and personnel issues.
* Pay scales: various (or none) from clerical to deputy head level; payment may be by results.
* Relevant experience: may develop skills from clerical or teaching background or be recruited for business or other expertise.
* Job satisfaction: member of school community; responsibility; improving provision for pupils; possible option for semi-retirement.
* Down side: control function may cause friction with teaching staff; schools not always clear what support they need so job may grow out of hand.