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.

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