Share the burden, save some cash

16th November 2007 at 00:00
As chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, I have the privilege of great support services. But this still isn't the case in many schools.

I see highly effective business management in many schools, but in others the head is expected to manage the budget, take responsibility for a capital programme, write bids for funding and even count dinner money!

Yet when you ask heads why they do the job, they will almost always talk about wanting to get back to the heart of the matter - making a difference to children's lives. The best way to do that is to ensure that heads have the time to focus on the core business of the school: ensuring effective learning for each child.

It is interesting that in most independent schools the second most important person is the school bursar. This person typically reports directly to the head and governors and has responsibility for human resources, finance, health and safety, facilities and marketing.

Most maintained secondary schools and almost half of all primaries say they have school business manager support, but only 60 per cent of secondaries have someone on their leadership team with responsibilities similar to those you would see in an independent school. In primaries, the figure is less than 13 per cent.

School business managers are talented people but not enough schools have access to them and those that do are not necessarily using them as well as they could.

Our research suggests that if business manager support were to be available to all schools, it would cut heads' workload by up to a third, leading to better work-life balance and giving them more time to concentrate on making a difference to children's lives.

Our findings also show that business managers tend to identify significant savings and bring more income into the school. Even very small schools, through jointly employing business expertise across more than one school, could benefit from the purchasing of services and equipment in bulk. Research shows that this approach can go a long way towards funding access to school business managers. In other words, this has the potential to pay for itself.

We propose to give all primary schools access to this expertise. Starting in early 2008, we will run "demonstration projects" at 24 locations across England to explore the potential of new advanced school business manager roles, which will operate across small and large groups of primary schools or in a single large primary. These roles will normally be accountable to the headteacher in each school. In the case of a trust or hard federation, they may be accountable to the chief executive.

The introduction in 1988 of Local Management of Schools helped to improve the quality of school leadership, which is better now than it has ever been. But 19 years on, the expectations placed on schools are very different. We cannot continue to expect heads to carry the ever-increasing burden of responsibility and accountability without support.

Teachers aspiring to school leadership tell me they like aspects of the headteacher role but they do not want to lose day-to-day contact with the children. By ensuring all primary heads have access to business managers, the load would be lightened and perceptions of the role as being too caught up in non-educational aspects would be transformed.

These proposals will make the headteacher's role more attractive and help recruit and retain more high-quality people into leadership. They will be free to focus on what they do best - helping children to learn.

Steve Munby, Chief executive NCSL.

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