Monday, 21 August 2017

What’s it all about?

What’s it all about?

As a School Business Manager, moving into a Trust Business Manager role involved in leading the provision of central services in an emerging MAT I feel huge responsibility to ensure that we get it right.  I wrote an earlier blog regarding the essence of our trust and what we truly value:

Veritas Values

As a parent of two teenagers that are only one school year apart we embarked last year on a four year marathon of exam results with two years of GCSE results to be followed next year with two years of A level results.  Having recently studied myself at Masters level and with visits to university open days, in our household, education is something that impacts us daily.  So we currently have four educational establishment to draw from and I feel blessed that I am able to bring these personal experiences into my working role.


My work concentrates on the primary sector, so for us it is all about SATs, CATs and the Kent Test.  In a county with selective secondary education, the test for pupils to get into the grammar school system exists; for some that is just another day at school for others it is a huge pressure and in some cases stress – not a word that probably should exist for primary school children but for some reason it does.  (You may find  The Stress Threshold helpful).   I had a child in each camp; for one it was a breeze and the other a massive struggle.  Both however attend grammar school – one is better at tests the other is better at coursework.  Is either one cleverer than the other?  Is either one more likely to be successful (whatever that is) than the other?  Who knows?  I just think they learn and apply themselves differently and different career paths will require different application.

So as I sit for the second year in a row awaiting GCSE results I think of the establishments at which my children learn and compare and contrast that with what we are trying to achieve in the development of our trust.  Is what we are trying to achieve what I would expect for my children as a parent?  Is it good enough?  Is it the best?  Surely when we are talking about our future generation only the best is good enough.

There is a lot in the press about the monumental shake up within the education sector and the rights and wrongs of academisation.  From my experience I would put forward the case that an LA system can offer the basis for education that is good enough, but the changing mindset that comes from academisation can result in the best.  I am encouraged by the thought that in the same vane as survival of the fittest, the best academies and MATs will thrive and set the 'best practice' bar for others to emulate.

They're all different!

I'm sure the teachers among you will say that it is not all about results; that children are all different and we need to provide a rich experience for all of our pupils whether or not they achieve the dizzy heights of the top of the class.  However, in an educational establishment that is graded according to its output it is hard to get away from data and as our pupils move on to secondary school and subsequently into further education or the world of work we certainly need to have provided a worthy stepping stone along whichever route they travel.  

Whatever route is chosen requires certain milestones to be achieved; for those with a definite career in mind, requiring a university degree there is a need to pass GCSEs and A levels to a certain standard and failure to do so will undoubtedly have a significant impact on that journey.  For others, a more practical route may be chosen and an earlier awareness of how to present themselves in the workplace may be more appropriate.

I have seen blogs and tweets this week from the likes of Sir Richard Branson ( ) and Jeremy Clarkson
saying that it's not the end of the world if your exams results don't go as planned.  That may be easy for them to say and I'm sure their sentiment was intended to be positive, however, it doesn't offer much of a life plan to those not achieving their goals.

So as an educational institution what is it all about?

There are so many variables - just with my own two children, it would be impossible to devise a one size fits all system as they are completely different learners.  At two different secondaries I have seen two completely different approaches from schools that on paper would appear very similar.  Within 15 miles of each other, both grammar, both with long standing traditions, both graded outstanding and broadly similar intake numbers, one an academy the other under the Local Authority.  I have witnessed very different methods at the two schools and this I believe to be attributable to leadership. The two schools have very different approaches to communication, student support, timetabling and no doubt a host of other areas.  Identifying the positives at each school I have considered these in the development of systems within my own role along with any seemingly negative issues to ensure that we continue to self reflect.


Leadership is fundamental to each school (and requires a blog all of its own).  I intend to develop my next blog around the concept of succession planning as changes in key personnel within schools can have huge impact.

   A blog from our Principal on Slow Leadership

   Reflective review on Uplifting Leadership from our Principal

In terms of 'What's it all about?' I believe it is to encourage each of the pupils that walks through our door to value themselves, believe in themselves, to be excited to learn new things and be brave enough to try.  It is also to allow them to celebrate successes and give them the tools that when things don't go as planned they can pick themselves up and try again rather than simply give up.  For some of our pupils, this will come naturally but for others (often for a host of complex reasons) it doesn't.

Independent article


According to the above article:

A "growth mind - set," thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.

Some say that it is not the destination that matters - it is all about the journey.  Surely then it is imperative that our children and staff enjoy the ride.

Others might say that a fixed goal closes your mind to taking opportunities along the way.


We hope not only to inspire our pupils but also to encourage strong partnerships with families where parents often from higher deprivation areas with low educational starting points and equally low aspiration will engage with the school and support their children to do well.  Here, communication is crucial - maintaining an open dialogue is so important during the good times and bad.  My own experience leads me to believe that communication at secondary schools is less forthcoming than in the primary setting - perhaps due to the fact that pupils are older so the need for parental collection (and therefore physical presence on site) is reduced.  I also think this is partly due to the fact that at secondary, pupils have many more teachers (and the teachers have many more pupils) rather than the traditional primary school classroom setting with one teacher.


Perhaps because I work in education I have tended to let the teachers get on with their job not wanting to be 'one of those parents'; I believe that when you chose a school for your child you have to place trust in that school and support them but this only works when the school is conscientious with that responsibility.  With hindsight our trust may have been somewhat misguided. As an example, finding out by accident that your child has been on report for two weeks.  This does not allow the school and parents to work in partnership.  There were questions to be asked - why was he put on report?  Was he struggling or was this due to a general behavioural issue?  How long was there an issue before the point at which being put on report occurred? Could the school have learnt anything from the parents regarding home life?  None of this was investigated.  The option wasn't given for support to be given at home either in the form of punishment or emotional or practical support.  I understand that the school will work on a level of trust with their pupils and that my son was not innocent in this scenario; he clearly should have been forthcoming with this information but it is apparent that the school should have their own communication measures in place.  They have the tech kit in place to e-mail, text etc they simply haven't used it.  If I were a member of the leadership team in this scenario rather than the parent, I would consider that this was not good enough.

Collaboration & Sharing 

Nurturing partnerships does not come easily and is a big challenge for school staff.  Our mission to achieve ‘irresistible learning for all’  really sets us apart.  We are an educational establishment; advocating to our pupils and families the benefits of challenging yourself and being life long learners, so surely we should lead by example?  During times of austerity staff training is something that often experiences budget cuts.  At Veritas MAT we have embraced a culture where the staff are inspired to learn; to find innovative ways to better outcomes, whether this in in the classroom, the school office or with site development.  We look to include - FULL STOP.  By that we don't mean including those pupils who find it difficult to learn, we mean that we will find THE BEST research to develop all of our pupils whatever their needs, we will embrace all of our staff and encourage them to make our school a better place. Not just teachers, not just the SLT but all staff and those in our governance structure too.

We have grown experts who constantly seek to improve and we are cultivating a self improving system where collaboration is a non negotiable element.  The sharing of our learning is embedded and reflection on what works well or not so well allows for realignment in our planning.

You can't please all the people all the time, but I do believe that our pupils and staff feel valued and they feel that they make a difference.  They have a sense of belonging and a thirst to learn more.  By keeping ourselves inspired by challenging our practice and asking "Is there a better way of doing this?" keeps us fresh and our practice innovative.  It also sets a great role model to those within our care; encouraging them to be the best that they can be.

That's what it's all about! 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Veritas Values

At Veritas our MAT strategy group put a lot of thought into the development of our ethos and values yet it remains strikingly simple. As we look to develop the trust I have decided to revisit these and consider what as the Trust Business Manager, they mean to me.

We have promised 'irresistible learning for all' in our mission statement, encompassing the following 3 core values:

As a member of the teaching staff it may be more obvious to see where these elements might fit into daily life; ensuring that little Johny (or Jilly!) is supported in developing friendships, encouraged to believe in themselves and their abilities and that they are wowed by an amazing curriculum every day.

As a member of what is often referred to as the 'back office' it would be easy to lose the connection between the day job and what we are all here for. For us, the creation of the 3i's was not purely for the pupils, it was for the staff too - we wanted everyone associated with Veritas to experience these values.

For me as a leader, I want to ensure that my team are supported and have the freedom to innovate - I am a great advocate that we shouldn't just do something because that's how it's always been done. It might be that there is good reason, but there could be a better/quicker/cheaper way.
The pace of change in recent years has at times left me feeling in a bit of a spin with a myriad of new ideas but not enough time to implement them all - there can seem such a rush that a particular idea needs to be integrated but by next week you have moved on to something else. It concerns me that innovation may be lost along the way.

But where does this desire come from? There are many people carrying out similar roles to mine - are they all as driven and compulsive to improve - of course not and I am certainly not painting myself as some kind of superhero but something spurs me on to create the environment for our trust to thrive.

So what is different?

Academisation - this embedded a sense of responsibility - we became responsible for our destiny and failure was not an option.

Leadership - the vision described and the alternative on offer gave us clear direction and I instantly bought in to that - remaining the same was not an option as the political landscape slid beneath our feet.

Belief - we knew we were a good body of staff, who care unreservedly about those children in our community. It was unthinkable to crystal ball gaze and see a future where we became a 'franchise' of an academy chain.

Research - so you know there is a problem, how do you find the solution? Research; become an expert, evaluate the options, at the very least know what you are facing; furnish yourself with information - the tools to dig yourself out of that hole. Isn't that what we are here to do for our children - to give them information, education - the tools to give them choices?

Review - in order to assess the way out of a problem, it is necessary to know the current state of play, strengths and weaknesses - you need to know what you are good at and what you are not so good at in order to develop a plan of action.

Bringing this back to our core purpose (the children) innovation, to me, hosts new ways to be more effective in resourcing the tools required to educate and nurture our learners (young and old(er!)) This might be the introduction of a staff performance management portal or the procurement of new outdoor equipment and anything in between.


For me, inspiration comes from random people, places and events but the opportunity for this inspiration is born out of a research based approach to aspire for greatness.

With the tech available now, the world is so much smaller. It wasn't so long ago that collaboration would have meant meeting up with colleagues within say a 20 mile radius. Today I have been in contact with contemporaries in the midlands and beyond. It has been know for me to correspond internationally! This is a very different mindset to the days of Local Authority control. I don't mean this to be in any way derogatory to the L.A. - strategy was dealt with at county level, so at school level we simply followed instructions. As an academy, we are responsible for creating our own strategy and that has opened up a whole new need to be inspirational.

So where does the desire to be inspirational come from?

Feeling appreciated - this can not be underestimated. People might moan about not being paid enough but not appreciating your staff is far worse than not paying them enough. If you genuinely appreciate your staff (and they feel it (that's the important bit!)) you get more out of them than if you pay them extra but they don't feel appreciated.

Pride - Feeling that you have done a good job and that this has been recognised (appreciated) results in a feeling of pride - this often drives a person on to do more - people like to be praised and are genuinely encouraged by the success of doing something well. I think once you have created the habit of doing things to the best of your ability it is embedded.

I have just asked a colleague to 'do me a favour' and write a blog for our website; half expecting her to cringe at the thought - instead she bubbled with excitement and came up with a host of different tangents that she could go off on - this is because she too is inspired by what is going on here at Veritas - it is quite infectious!

Team vision - I am inspired by my team on a daily basis, whether by their sheer grit and determination to get through the quagmire of learning; to get to grips with new roles or their positive attitude to get to the end of the day with a smile. They definitely posses all the attributes on our school's vision wheel.

The importance of this is seen everyday but none more so than when the children are awestruck that Mr & Mrs Wally are in the school office on World Book Day!


Our team is made up of a set of individuals, we are all different and come with different skills, personalities and baggage. 

This was characterised in our choice of logo - the 3i's (referencing the 3 core values) represent individuals working together with a team or partnership approach (this could be pupils, staff, parents or other collaborative partners) making up the 'V' shape for Veritas. 

What is important is that we support each other, creating the environment where we can be the best that we can be. If we succeed in this, we can achieve 'irresistible learning for all' because this supportive and encouraging environment breeds innovation and inspiration. I know that because I learned it in my research!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Research and formal MBA studies

The seed of an idea for me to study at Masters level was first planted during my annual Performance Management meeting in the autumn of 2014.  This came after a summer of significant research into how our trust was crumbling before our very eyes (18 months after our conversion) and how this could be rectified or if not, how we as a the seemingly insignificant entity (as a primary school in a 2 secondary schools merging and 1 primary MAT) could endeavour to protect ourselves and the interests of our staff, pupils and wider community.

One of the biggest findings in my research was the outcome that the governance practice did not marry with the policy.  I think this is worryingly typical of some of the earlier converters where the fundamental constitutional documents were not fully understood.  Everything was fine during good times but scratch under the surface when things are going wrong and it was clear that there were several gaping holes. 

The detail of what went wrong is not relevant.  The issues related to lack of communication and lack of trust leadership and management - governance had remained largely with the governing bodies of individual schools.  For the secondary, the risk of our primary impacting the overall trust in standards and finance were small but the risk the secondary placed on us was significant and when we provided challenge to the system requesting certain documents this was not received well.  We battled our way out of the trust, negotiating permission from the DFE to set up our own MAT (initially with just one school) and the original trust was eventually terminated. 

So, sat in my Performance Management meeting, still only part way through the above story, it was clear to me that people in core roles were not providing the challenge and rigour to the system of governance and whatever the outcome, I felt that our governing board needed to have someone to take on that protective custodianship.  I felt huge responsibility to the pupils and staff at our school having been on the original consultation group during our academy conversion.  One of the main reasons for our initial conversion was ironically the desire to have a say over our own destiny and here we were on the verge of being swallowed up by a sponsor against the wishes of our governing body.

My line manager instantly saw the benefits of Masters Level training in my role and was keen for me to begin the search for an appropriate course.  By this time I had become a member of the NASBM (National Association of School Business Management) and sought their advice.  They put me in touch with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) who were running a distance learning MBA in Educational Leadership and Management - this seemed to be just what I was looking for and I enrolled for the coming year.

NASBM are currently promoting other Level 7 courses on their link below:

The equivalent course currently available through ARU is:

Before the course even started our situation had changed substantially, we had been graded Outstanding by OFSTED (from a prior grade of Requires Improvement) - this was a turning point in our future allowing us to gain permission from the DFE to 'go it alone'.  In June 2015 I attended Company Secretary training from our legal firm in London and took on this role.  This enabled me to see exactly where we had gone wrong and the kind of structure needed.  I was very conscious that our governors (now trustees) may not fully understand the various roles and on the train on the way home I knocked up the following diagram to help their understanding.

This has been updated over time to fit our trust development but this old template still outlines the various roles.

So in September 2015, we returned to a new academic year as a new trust and I was due to start my MBA course.  I never could have imagined just how aligned the tasks required over the next two and a half years would be.

My studies provided the vehicle for some of the most important areas of strategy required by the trust to be formulated using a research focus and receiving external validation.  The first two modules covered research projects and how to undertake this.  The need to marry theory and practice made me take time out to understand Why? and to provide an evidence base not just for the project undertaken but in choosing this as the most appropriate direction of travel in the first place. 

Prior to my studies I had tried to use a common sense approach in my work, balanced with a desire to do what is right for our school.  The journey that we had come on taught me that that is not enough and had it all gone horribly wrong there would have been huge consequences for some involved.  At the very least, a research based approach can provide evidence to those decision makers to increase confidence and justify their actions.  Accountability and transparency have quite rightly never been more important.

There have been times since I started my MBA when I have wondered why I opened my big mouth during that Performance Management meeting; times of real struggle with sheer workload.  As a school that originally converted over 4 years ago; joining an existing trust, our transition should have been long completed and we should be operating as a well-oiled machine but the additional workload in researching what was going wrong, how we could rectify this, what are our options to join a different trust or set up a new one, permissions associated with this and finally going ahead with the legal process of this were huge.  Not to mention keeping up with the day job that as an academy had become exponentially complex!  I think this t-shirt pretty much sums up the changing role of the School Business Manager post academisation.  If you're interested in seeing a more informative version of the changing role - another of my blogs may offer more specifics. 

The first two modules focused on research itself, looking at types of studies, tools such as options appraisal and S.W.O.T. analysis to assess what would make an effective project and ideas such as appreciative enquiry to develop and decide the direction of a project.  Ethics applications, surveys and interviews, data collection and evaluative methods were also studied giving a wider perspective to considerations in collecting quantitative and qualitative information and the processes required to be able to ethically use the data collected.  Some of this seemed to be beyond the realms of the type of research that I might need to complete, however, the knowledge gained has added a perspective that I would not have had without this theoretical learning.

The next 3 modules covered Developing Management Systems, Leading Educational Change & Improvement and Strategic Management.  Each module studied theory behind the topic and then allowed the development of a project (including case studies, literary reviews, presentations etc) - at such an early stage in developing our trust, this was hugely beneficial allowing me to focus on governance structures, risk management, business planning and income generation as well as the development of our trust growth planning and leadership.  My grit and determination were somewhat tested during the 3rd module where there were staffing issues and changes with the tutor.  This element was pretty much self-taught and really required me to dig deep to keep going.

The following modules were all supported with wise words and inspiration from @iantindal  - his blogs are extremely informative and thought provoking (usually leading me to another area of research).  Another dimension was the sharing of experience with others on the course - peer review and support was equally appreciated by all at different times throughout the duration.  This encouraged self reflection and critique of my own and others work in a deeply constructive manner; something that was new to me.  I think this (perhaps more than anything else) will enable me to be a better leader and strategic planner. 

The last part of the course was a 'Major Project' directly linked to our trust development as well as the wider education system including investigating lessons to be learnt from international research which was fascinating.  This section of the course pulled together all the different threads from earlier modules (as you might expect).

As I juggled my studies with the joys of year-end and bulge class building works it felt like this at times but all in all this period of study has been invaluable.  Thinking back to my own understanding of MATs when we first academised and not for the lack of commitment with the process, the learning curve has been phenomenal.  The combination of life experience and in-depth research results in me truly understanding the entity that is 'Veritas Multi Academy Trust'.  I think it also played a large part in my accreditation as a Fellow of the NASBM which I received in May 2016; a huge personal achievement.

In terms of Educational Leadership and Management, I hope to be able to balance the needs of my team with the needs of our organisation in its goal of providing the very best educational experience and outcomes for those pupils in our care and further afield.  We intend through our research to provide failsafe systems that maintain rigour and challenge to ensure standards are continuously improving.  And with succession planning at the core we intend to ensure this remains future proof. Surely a research based approach allied with collaboration and effective leadership cannot fail to improve outcomes for all; there is no place for an insular approach.

It feels now as though we are on the cusp - a pilot about to take their first flight; there is no way after the journey we have been on that we are going to crash and burn so the only alternative is to buckle up and enjoy the ride!
We may be a fledgling trust but the experience gained goes beyond its years.

For interesting & informative blogs from others at Veritas Multi Academy Trust take a look at our website:

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

SBM - My Academy Journey

The journey of academy conversion for me would see the re-emergence of skills developed prior to my career break to raise a family.  Having joined Warden House Primary School as a Finance Officer to get back into a 'real job' this quickly evolved into the role of Business Manager and emerged to an all year round commitment.

I was invited to sit on the consultation group to discuss the merits of conversion; both to represent support staff and due to my obvious future involvement in the process should it go ahead.  I found this to be interesting and deeply appreciated the lengths that the Governing Body and Headteacher were going to to ensure the very best for the school community whilst considering such a monumental, non-reversible decision.  This resulted in a high degree of trust among staff and the community and an inner drive that we must make this work.

Once the consultation had taken place the biggest challenge for me personally was the sheer workload - with hindsight this is something that I would have tackled differently with more of a team approach to completing tasks.

The historic office set-up was the traditional School Secretary and Finance Officer (me - dealing with all financial (including site) and HR procedures); both contracted term time only.  Due to this the majority of conversion work fell to my remit - dealing with staffing and site contracts and the legal transfer from LA school to join our sponsor trust.  Although there are checklists and guidance documents, without prior experience it was difficult to judge how long different tasks would take to complete or when they would land on your desk.  This resulted in me just getting on with things as they arrived but of course the day job still needed to be carried out - the thought of payroll not being processed was inconceivable.

At this point I was often working 7 days per week - not wanting to be seen to fail, not wanting someone else from outside to come in and take over the process as it was a thoroughly interesting time of development but equally feeling responsible for my original role.  I was capable of doing this - I had worked previously in the corporate world of the oil industry and was educated to degree level.  I saw this as an opportunity for my role to develop and attacked it with dogged determination.

I am the first to admit however that as an employer this would not be acceptable to expect from anyone else.  Much later my research would apply theory to this (Hargreaves, A, Boyle, A & Harris, A, 2014) and if I were to advise others as to how to go about conversion it would be to gather a team to take on the myriad of tasks.

Now as the lead on business matters I question how I as a leader would prevent this happening with a member of staff but our conversion process came at a time when I was not part of the SLT, the office as a whole was not represented in team meetings which I think was representative of most LA schools.  This is very different now however, with my leadership role including the line management of the office staff, site staff and extended service provision staff.

I am not sure how much of our transformation in educational standards came from converting to academy status and how much came from the innovative changes in practice introduced by the headteacher.  I think that conversion did add an element of jeopardy - staff felt a real sense of responsibility and ownership; a change in mindset that was completely evident in our 2014 Ofsted inspection where we were graded Outstanding with the most impressive report I have read to date.

2014  was a time of huge highs and lows - the fantastic Ofsted grading was a momentous turning point opening out a sliver of an opportunity.  In a twist of fate our outstanding sponsor trust had been placed in special measures and the security of our school's direction was hanging in the balance.

I had been invited to attend MAT board meetings for some time and took it upon myself to research the options available.  To cut a very long story short, the DfE agreed for us to set up our own Multi Academy Trust (as the legal entity to support (in the interim) just the one school).

It was at this time that I sought to protect our governing board by studying at Masters level - ensuring that their Business Manager and Co.Sec was adequately educated.  I enlisted on the MBA Educational Leadership and Management distance learning course offered by Anglia Ruskin University.  (No doubt the focus of my next blog!) 

This has been hugely beneficial to me personally and the trust; furnishing me with the skills to approach my work in a far more strategic manner.  The increased level of corporate responsibility as an academy has required that trustees are up-skilled and fully understand their duties as Company Director and Charity Trustee.

Robson’s Real World Research provides an interesting and logical approach to carrying out research particularly suitable to an educational setting. 

I created the diagram below some time ago as my role as SBM began to take shape:

Research is a key word in our organisation; embedded in our values and all staff and trustees are expected to support this. For me research areas have included business strategies such as Business Planning, Income Generation Planning, Risk Management, Site Strategy & Capital Funding Applications and now growth development.  As well as this, I have researched an Operational Plan for a Central Service Provision model for our MAT Strategy Group, investigating accountancy software packages, communications portals and staffing requirements. Collaboration with other SBMs far and wide through social media links is a refreshing change in practice methods.  From this I have been introduced to new ideas and ways of organising my workload as well as finding practical contacts for future reference.

It has become a bit of a showcase now that research is shared during a Teach Meet style event across all staff on one of our staff development days.  You can read more about this:

We now move to a different phase as we develop our growth strategy and I move into a Trust Business Manager role; we have learnt so much through our experience and have an embedded understanding of the legalities associated with academy trusts.  This is something that we never would have learnt had our original sponsor trust not failed - this has made us a much stronger trust board.  This experience allied with my formal learning path has resulted in my accreditation as a NASBM Fellow (National Association of School Business Management) of which I am immensely proud.

It has been thoroughly rewarding to be involved in shaping the direction of the future trust; aiding the trust board with strategic planning, culminating in the following governance structure:

As I hear of other schools beginning their journey down the route of academisation I realise how far we have come and how much we know; the diagram above looks quite simplistic but the level of research and understanding that has gone into building this is vast.

Four years down the line after converting to academy status the all important answer if asked the question:

'do you feel that the school is in a better place for having academised?'  

I would have to answer with a resounding "Yes!" but I have a sneaky suspicion that the best is yet to come!

Hargreaves, A, Boyle, A, Harris, A (2014), Uplifting Leadership; Jossey-Bass; John Wiley.

Robson, C. (2011). Real world research : A resource for users of social research methods in applied settings (3rd ed.). Chichester : Wiley.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Leadership reflection 2016

This time of year always seems to be popular as a period for reflection.  The end of the calendar year married with the holiday, offering the required time to devote to this process synchronises perfectly.

There seems to be a very negative vibe at the moment regarding 2016 in summary with many hoping for a better 2017.

It is true there does seem to have been numerous celebrity/iconic deaths throughout the year, along with huge turmoil at home and abroad on the political scene.  With humanitarian and environmental issues televised daily it would be difficult for anyone to suggest that there is not room for improvement.

For me (as one lowly soul) I try in my reflection to focus on the positives; learning from mistakes and moving on rather than dwelling on them.

Within my role as a school business leader, there has been an ongoing period of major change for several years. Through consultation to academise and the resulting conversion process right through to setting up our own trust and subsequently rebranding to Veritas Multi Academy Trust (and the ugly bit in between).

I believe this has taken a certain type of character to lead such vision and it entails the buy in of senior leaders and staff.  Everyone needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak.

I read an article this morning which appeared harsh in part and focussed on the firing of employees.  This is possibly misaligned with the STPCD and union guidelines within the education sector...

... however, what struck a chord was the realisation that not everyone will buy in to the vision and it's ok for them to part company.  In fact it is crucial to the success of an establishment; if staff cannot support the goals and aspirations of the leadership how can they carry them out effectively?

It is important when we recruit that we paint an accurate picture of what it means to work within the organisation and what is expected from the employer and employee in order for the partnership to flourish.

Within the school system there are likely to be many long serving staff finding themselves working for very different style establishments with the move away from the traditional norm of the Local Authority to the increasingly diverse system of trusts that is emerging.

It is inevitable that for some whose working life thus far has been fairly stable may fear and oppose what could be perceived to be significant change.

I am always one for a positive or inspiring quote and below is one I came across this morning:

In life you'll realize that there is a purpose for every person you meet. Some will teach you, and some will bring out the best in you.

This was put out on Twitter by Nigel Risner (@Nigelrisner) who spoke at the NASBM national conference this year.  I was not in attendance but could literally feel the inspiration that he imparted to SBM colleagues as they tweeted during the following days.  Nigel regularly posts inspiring tweets - I particularly like this one:

So what have been my personal positives for 2016?  It has certainly been a busy one! (The list is not exhaustive and is in no particular order of priority):

  • NASBM Fellowship - in May I was accredited with this status which gave a great sense of achievement
  • MBA modules passed - during 2016 these have been centred around Change Management and Strategic Management culminating in the development of various plans and documents in particular associated with the development of our trust.  My final project looks at the benefits to be obtained from a centralised central services function in terms of provision, cost and potential impact on educational standards taking influences from international research where relevant. I have taken inspiration along the journey from my tutor @iantindal
  • Trustees approved a new position of Finance Assistant who has recently taken up post
  • Development of my Company Secretary role.  It seems to vary across trusts how much this role involves (dependent upon how much of a governance lead the trustees play and how much this service is outsourced to legal firms) but in our case this role has included not only the administrative tasks of updating trustee information with Companies House etc but providing guidance to the trustees of their statutory obligations and research into best practice particularly linked to the areas of governance, business and finance
  • Development of the MAT growth plan with the Principal and key trustees.  This initially started from research that the Principal and I had undertaken individually, we then started to formulate this into some ideas that could be shared with a core group of trustees and a MAT Growth Strategy Group was formed.  This group continues to shape our way forward
  • Said goodbye to old staff pursuing exciting new ventures and hello to newbies joining the team
  • Bulge class building works - a sizeable project to create two new classrooms - this came in on time and budget working in collaboration with the LA.  It also involved the relocation of our After School Club provision
  • Completion and submission of first set of solo accounts as a new trust in association with our accountants
  • Changing strategy for applying for capital funding; researching, engaging and working with a partner organization to complete submissions
  • Researching procurement requirements particularly in relation to Conditions Survey tendering
  • Legal process associated with the change of name for the trust and all associated tasks
  • In November I was featured in the Education Executive magazine - this was a tongue in cheek article but nonetheless getting myself out there!
  • Increased involvement in sector collaboration, linking in particular with NASBM (or should I say the IISBL?) and contemporaries via social networking streams.  This has impacted my role in several ways:  I have found useful business contacts to aid conducting projects, I have  had a sounding board with others doing the same role (the position of SBM can be quite solitary).  Of course I work within a small team and interact with other groups within the school as required but it is not like teachers or teaching assistants where there are a significant number of contemporaries on site.  Another benefit has been from a training and development perspective - leading on to the next two points
  • NASBM professional standards - this review is shaping the way I carry out my role and I look forward to sharing the set of standards with colleagues as we develop our central services offer

  • Microsoft OneNote - this has transformed the way I work (and has improved the organisation within my home life too).  I feel totally confident that as my skills develop in OneNote this will only increase its impact.  I was introduced to the idea of this through Twitter feeds and subsequently stumbled across the OneNote conference week.  Two tutorials that I found particularly inspiring were:
    • @bealers …. I had been aware of colleagues who complete handwritten journals and I had always liked the idea but struggled with how I might remember how to locate the piece of information that I might be looking for in the future with the myriad of tasks that I get involved with on a daily basis.  I had come across OneNote and this tutorial taught me how to make much better use of it; it encouraged me to start organising my thoughts and planning differently and I am now trying to include the completion of daily, weekly and monthly planning into my routines
    • @ulrikahedlund - this tutorial was intended to focus on how to use OneNote to improve organisation within your home life.  I thought this would also teach me a few tricks of how to lay things out and I have found this extremely useful - instead of having to riffle through paper files when I need something I am starting to obtain a bank of documents filed within OneNote - this includes school letters and information relating to my children, holiday planning, important receipts/guarantees the list goes on (of course this can be shared with others so in time my husband and I could share the same resource)
  • Other tech that I have used more widely in 2016 includes the Google suite of packages; in particular      Google docs and sheets. This has simplified the process for recording cash paid to the school office and accounting to the correct ledger codes easily and also several of our core SLT documents are shared and collectively updated in this way.
  • In November I was featured in the Education Executive magazine - this was a fairly tongue in cheek article but nonetheless getting myself out there!  If you fancy a chuckle check out page 46!
  • Teach Meet - our annual all staff Teach Meet took place in November and offered a point in time to reflect on our own learning  (I presented on NASBM Professional Standards and Microsoft OneNote) and share in other's learning journeys.

It is true that some of the items encountered above would have landed on my plate regardless of the type of person I was; they are simply part of my job.  I do feel however that many of the achievements have been sought out due to my determination to ensure that we create the very best trust that we can.

An enquiring mind and a positive attitude have helped immensely.  Positivity can play an enormous role and not only in the workplace.  As I taxi along the runway leaving Canada behind, it would have been easy to focus on the negative when my daughter fell and injured her knee on the second day of our skiing holiday.  I remember there being a conscious moment in time when I told myself that this would not ruin the holiday we had been working towards all year.  No one was out to get us- it was no one's fault - it was just one of those uncontrollable things.  As a group we had to acknowledge that the holiday we had planned was not going to happen but in order for it to be a success we needed to adapt and change allowing other opportunities to present themselves.

There has been a constant need to adapt and change to our given circumstances in my working role and I think the skills learnt through studies and 'on the job' have equipped me with an ability to see the wider picture.  Research and reasoning is not a bad start to most problems and if you add in a bit of reflective practice you can improve; learning from (and understanding) your mistakes.

As I look to the new year, there is much to be excited about.  Our relatively new office team is developing well and the handover of finance tasks to our new Finance Assistant has begun.  I look forward to continuing this training in the new term.  I would like to lead the development of a Central Services team offering a customer services focus (customers being all stakeholders - parents, community, staff, pupils and outside agencies etc).  We will create an effective and efficient, systems based facility which will work across a number of schools.  Duplication in finance and admin will be reduced and group procurement will enable additional financial efficiencies.

There will be projects associated with the development of the trust - initially the development of a new website and any marketing initiatives and continued business planning.

My Principal is an advocate of Mentor Coaching and this is being developed within our organisation. I will look to prioritise this during the next 12 months both looking at my own practice and that of others as required.  If you are interested in this have a look at:

@chizkent has posted many interesting blogs related to teaching and educational leadership which may also be of interest.

Who knows what 2017 will throw at us but I at least intend to react to it with as positive an attitude as I can muster and a willingness to adapt to ensure that we don't change our goals if things don't go to plan but we change our planning.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 30 April 2015


I was watching a TV drama series one evening recently and heard someone randomly say "practical can get in the way of possible" - this is something that instantly struck a cord and has continued to resonate around my brain.  It was an episode of NCIS - the setting and subject matter was totally unrelated to my 'real world' situation but the words have nonetheless stuck.

I find myself often thinking about new ideas (some a bit off the wall whilst others fairly sane; isn't that the idea of Brainstorming?) in the most impractical situations - at the supermarket checkout, the shower, whilst trowelling on the make-up ready to face the world, driving the car and numerous others non work-based situations.  By the time I get to work, with a pile of messages, income and expenditure to process and a to-do list a mile long it does seem that 'practical' most definitely gets in the way of 'possible'.

I have always had an inquisitive mind and a sense of looking at the big picture but as a relative 'newbie' to the official role of SLT I am mindful that it is imperative that time is made available to ensure this valuable resource is not simply left to drift - we need to maintain a focus on what we are trying to achieve and how to create an effective plan to guide our future vision.  With that in mind I have decided to create this blog with a view to creating my own personal Brainstorming area that I can develop over time and invite others to contribute to.  Other members of the school community collaborate with their peers and my hope is that this will evolve into a form of collaboration for SBMs.  So please feel free to comment and share ideas.
Time to develop another thinking map! .... 

Already this is leading me to the idea that I could set up a 'Teach Meet' designed for School Business Managers with a Brainstorming theme - several attendees presenting on something they feel they do particularly well and could share their expertise in.  Whether working in a Local Authority School, an academy, Church School or special school we are all juggling a multitude of issues and tasks from shrinking budgets, staffing and purchasing to deteriorating school buildings, changes in HR and payroll, pensions, strategy, legal .... the list goes on (have I mentioned anything about a curriculum?)
Some time ago I created a thinking map based around the changing role of the School Business Manager and at some point I will develop this into a more meaningful blog; for the time being here is a visual representation of my day!


We have briefing sessions from time to time where information is disseminated to us but not really anything where we get together and share best practice and new initiatives.  So if you are far away but interested in being involved electronically or local and would like to attend/present then please post a comment and watch this space!

Alison Moon - School Business Manager - Warden House Primary School, Deal, Kent