Leadership - Bring in the blue-sky thinkers

25th October 2013 at 01:00
Staff with business experience can be a boon to the senior team - and the whole school

School leaders tend to bristle when you try to import business thinking into the education world. There is a belief that anyone with a commercial mindset would automatically view students as products, grades as margins and teaching talent as a saleable commodity. And that is not what education means to those who really care about it.

But what school leaders often fail to grasp is that this perception stems from stereotypical thinking and misinformation, and that business skills and experience can be hugely beneficial in schools, especially to the senior leadership team.

This team faces a number of challenges - balancing the day-to-day management of learning with student tracking, pastoral matters, marketing, public relations, staff, resources, equipment, infrastructure, and health and safety - which their teacher training courses may not have prepared them for.

Skills can be learned by watching senior teachers, reading books and studies, and attending courses, but hands-on, practical experience is vital. People who have previously held senior roles in business have that.

Teachers with a business background also think differently about managing change. Schools follow government policy, while those who have worked in a corporate setting have learned to respond to customers and can enable schools to adapt to new circumstances, needs and demands, rather than reacting to top-down diktats.

Although many in education are reluctant to admit it, schools are becoming more like businesses. They are increasingly in competition for students, are taking charge of their own multifaceted affairs, and are in need of creative ideas for generating income to supplement tightened budgets. Teachers can learn these skills, but those with a business background have honed their instincts in an aggressive, professional environment.

It is not only the school leader who reaps the benefit. All staff can profit from having someone with a different worldview on the team. Teachers are ardent sharers of expertise and best practice on social media or websites such as TES Connect - they have a thirst to better themselves. Having a teacher on the senior leadership team who brings a different skill set and a varied CV to the table can have a big impact on the professional development of younger staff.

School leaders may point to the increasing trend, primarily in academies, for employing financially qualified accountants in the role of bursar as evidence of a business brain being utilised in its rightful place. But while these appointments can be beneficial to schools' cost base and financial planning, they are unlikely to positively affect teaching and learning in the ways outlined above.

In the business world, companies are largely agnostic about where they recruit from - they see a business need and go out and find the person with the relevant skill set. So scientists, psychologists, historians and even teachers join the ranks alongside traditional marketers, account managers and financial personnel. School leaders need to have a similar outlook.

If the person is to work in an educational capacity, clearly the proper training has to be put in place. I am also not suggesting that teachers with a business background are better than their peers, but rather that within a mix of teaching professionals, someone with business experience can be a useful addition.

So when a CV lists HSBC or Microsoft under previous roles rather than a series of schools, don't shuffle it to the bottom of the pile. Instead, give it due consideration for the extra benefits that employing someone with this experience could bring.

In short

Teachers who come into education after working in business can be a valuable resource for headteachers and as part of a school's senior management team.

Those with a business background bring a fresh perspective and core management skills not generally covered on teacher training courses.

Management skills are useful in the classroom.

School leaders should actively seek out those with professional business experience.

What else?

How would school leaders measure up in the private sector? We put three of them through their paces.


Do schools shun "outsiders" who do not have qualified teacher status?


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