Interview - 'People think of Bob Cratchit, but it isn't just about finance'

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Mike Jameson, founder and chairman of Birmingham Bursars' Group, thinks his members will become increasingly influential as school budgets come under pressure

What attracted you to education?

When I left school I worked in stockbroking, insurance broking and computers. At one stage I set up my own business offering vocational guidance, primarily to young people on the dole. But I always had an interest in education and young people. I also developed an interest in bursarship early in my career. Bursarship in schools is such a varied role: it encompasses finance, administration, computer skills and personnel. It was an appealing role in a sector I was interested in working in.

Do you miss working full-time in a school?

I miss some aspects, but I don't miss the hours I had to work and the pressure I was under. I'm much more the master of my own destiny now I'm self-employed. But I enjoyed the rush to deadline, budget balancing and personnel work. I worked in a foundation school and we drew up our own contracts. And I enjoyed working with young people. I would be in an important meeting about finance and then there would be a knock on the door and a Year 8 pupil would come in and ask for 10p change.

Has the job changed much over the past few years?

There is much more acceptance of the need to have bursars and the number has risen considerably. In the primary sector they have to be all-singing, all-dancing. In the secondary sector, particularly in the bigger schools, there is a tendency now to have three key appointments and the business manager is one of them.

Is there any difference between the roles of bursar and school business manager?

The term school business manager has become a more professional term and suggests a wider-ranging role. People tend to think of Bob Cratchit sitting in his house counting money, but it isn't just about finance and it covers a number of business areas. Eighteen months ago the National Bursars' Association changed its title to the National Association of School Business Managers. We stayed with the name bursars at Birmingham because 75 per cent of our members work in the primary sector and it is a more acceptable term in that sector.

Will they increase in importance in schools, and if so, why?

In the present financial situation they are going to be increasingly influential as school budgets come under pressure. The proposed budgets for schools for 201011 are looking very tight. Schools need to have a finance specialist to look for ways to save money over the next two or three years until funding increases. The role will have more scope but there will be some pain along the way in certain institutions. There may be some tensions between heads and business managers as dynamics change.

How can bursars ease the workload of headteachers?

By ensuring that they are particularly effective in what they do and make suggestions to heads about the work they can take off them. Aside from saving in schools, another issue is increasing income. Heads are often responsible for raising the main income of a school. There is no reason why business managers can't play the main role in that in future. Internal efficiencies within the school could also be improved by an effective business manager.

Do you think a change of government will affect the role of bursars or school business managers?

Local authorities' influence and strength have gradually diminished over the past few years. A change of government, whether it's the Tories or not, will reduce their effectiveness and influence even more. In doing that, schools will be required to manage their statutory functions more than they are doing today.

What has the formation of the Birmingham Bursars' Group meant for local bursars?

We started in 1999 on a dark November evening with a small meeting to discuss whether we should form a local group. Since then our membership numbers have increased to over 200. Our website has led to heavy use of the discussion forums. Everyone has common problems and somebody has the expertise to give them the advice the others haven't got. In June, we are holding a 10-year anniversary celebratory conference. We are going to have speakers from the education field, speaking about the future of the group and school funding.

If you weren't doing what you do now, what career path might you have chosen?

I'm happy doing what I am. I enjoy what I do and I don't think there is anything else that I would have chosen to do in my career. I'm too old to play professional football so that isn't an option for me.

What would you do if you were Schools Secretary for a day?

I would want to make sure that the amount of initiatives rushed through is reduced. The number of initiatives under Ed Balls has far exceeded anything previously. Schools don't have the time to deal with it all.

What is the worst excuse you have heard in your career?

"I'm too busy" or "I can't do it". There's a solution to every problem.


2006-present: Educational financial consultant

2000-2006: Business manager, Fairfax School

1999-present: Chairman of Birmingham Bursars' Group

1993-2000: Bursar, Fairfax School, Sutton Coldfield

1962-1993: Stockbroking, computing; set up own business in vocational guidance.

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