What every school business manager needs to know Ruth Bradbury outlines the things that all senior school finance managers need to know in order to contribute effectively to the running of their school. The role of the school business/ finance manager is a hugely complex and responsible one but – until recently at least – there has been little acknowledgement of the demands of the post, or any framework or guidance to help newly or recently appointed individuals. Even with the higher profile of the role brought about by workforce remodelling and the introduction of qualifications such as the Certificate in School Business Management, there is often little support for postholders on the ground in what can be at times a rather isolated job. Furthermore, the culture of a school community is so strong, and its members can become so immersed in it, that established staff can very often assume that everybody they come across is fully appraised of the key issues and jargon of the education world. This can pose problems for almost anyone (I know teachers who have sat through entire meetings too embarrassed to ask the meaning of a particular acronym), but for business managers – especially those who have been recruited from outside of the education sector – it can significantly impede their progress, and thus their effectiveness. In this article, I have attempted to cast my mind back to the first year that I spent in my current post, and to come up with a summary of all of the things that I didn’t fully grasp which – had I understood them – would have made things so much easier for me. Whilst some of this is directed towards people who are relatively new in post, I am sure that there are some sections which may help clarify things even for long-serving staff. There are also a number of tips and suggestions included within the text to ensure that newly gained understanding can inform good practice and can support teaching and learning. Understand school structure and roles If you have ever tried to draw up a structure diagram for a large secondary school, you will realise how complex things can become. Most teaching staff have at least two roles (subject teacher and form tutor), and will report to different managers in those roles (eg head of department for subject teac hing, head of year for form tutor responsibilities). Individuals may also hold teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) points for separate initiatives or projects (eg gifted and talented or enterprise learning coordination) and may report directly to the headteacher or leadership team in those roles. To make things even more confusing, the headteacher and other school leaders will also be teachers in particular departments, and will therefore report to the heads of those departments in their teaching roles! Things aren’t necessarily simpler when it comes to support staff either. Whilst most schools have an outwardly straightforward line management structure for support staff, often headed by the business manager, the recent growth in student-focused support staff roles (such as pastoral managers or cover supervisors) means that a lot of day-to-day direction of those roles may now come from non-teachers. If you want to understand how things work in a school, then the key is very often having a grasp of who is in charge of what. At the very least, then, it is important to understand: leadership team responsibilities the academic structure – heads of faculty/department and teachers in those departments the pastoral structure – heads of year, any pastoral support staff and form tutors additional responsibilities (TLRs) – who has responsibility for what the support staff structure – day-to-day line management and informal reporting lines. It is also worth obtaining a broad understanding of the nature of the roles. Further ideas for this are contained within the section on ‘core business’ below. Understand teachers’ pay Organisational structure is not the only thing in schools that is complicated. Teachers’ pay is also notoriously difficult to understand, especially for people who may be working in the education sector for the first time. As with many things in the education world, people will assume that you have full knowledge of the intricacies of the pay structure, and it can be very difficult to admit that you don’t. In financial management terms, however, an understanding is of course absolutely vital if you are to budget and monitor expenditure successfully. There is not enough room in this article to outline the pay structure in detail. However, a summary of the key knowledge you will need is outlined below: General pay structure knowledge An understanding of the purposes of the three main pay spines (main scale, upper scale and leadership spine), and current salary rates. Knowledge of the threshold process and eligibility criteria. An understanding of the role of teaching and learning responsibility points (TLRs) and the upper and lower limits of the ranges. Specific knowledge in relation to your school Which members of staff are on which point of the pay spine, and when their next increment is due (automatically every September for M1-M6; every two years by application on the upper pay spine). Which members of staff are eligible to apply to go through the threshold (ie are currently on M6) and when they would be transferred to the upper pay spine if successful (no earlier than one year after reaching M6). Which members of staff are eligible for upper pay spine progression, and how this is assessed and implemented in your school. Which members of staff hold TLR points. The specific TLR ranges allocated within your school. Which members of staff are subject to salary safeguarding as a result of the transition from management allowances to TLRs. Unfortunately, although the above summary describes perfectly the current situation on teachers’ pay, it is one of the least stable aspects of school finance owing to frequent government changes. Understand school funding Budget allocations to individual schools are calculated using a number of different methodologies and formulae. It is important that business/finance managers have a basic understanding of this process – not only so that they can check that allocations are correct, but also so that they are aware of the implications for funding on any significant changes in the school set-up (eg a reduction in student numbers, an increase in free school meal applications, etc). Full details should be obtainable from your local authority, but a brief overview of the most common funding sources/ mechanisms is provided below: Age-weighted pupil units (AWPUs) The bulk of your main Section 52 budget allocation, this is determined by the number of students your school has in each age group. These numbers are multiplied by authority-wide standard rates (pupil units) to come up with an overall allocation for each school. One important thing to note is that AWPU funding is allocated in advance for a full financial year (April to March) and will therefore be based on estimated student numbers in Year 7 (Year 1 in primary) in September. When actual student numbers are known, your allocation will be adjusted to reflect this. Thus significantly higher or lower numbers than expected in September will have an in-year financial impact, and this should be taken into account in your out-turn estimates as soon as actual student figures are known in September. Other formula allocations (often referred to as ‘non-AWPU’ allocations) There are, of course, aspects of school expenses which do not depend solely on student numbers. Individual local authorities are entitled to devise their own formulae for these based on what they consider to be the most rational or logical data. However, the formula that they use must be applied consistently across all schools. Examples of this type of allocation may include premises costs (often a fixed amount per square metre), or SEN funding (often based on number of statemented students and/or numbers of students with particular categories of learning difficulty). It is worth familiarising yourself with and checking the formulae used by your local authority – firstly to make sure that the base data used is correct, but also so that you will be able to understand the funding implications for any significant changes in that base data – eg an increase in school area due to the building of a new extension, or a reduction of students qualifying for free school meals. Understand core business The key purpose of a school is to educate and prepare young people for their futures, and the key purpose of a school business or finance manager is, therefore, to ensure that resources are allocated to ensure that this is done in the most effective way possible. In order to do this, it is essential that you have an overview and understanding of educational issues, of school strategic plans, and of the day-today practicalities of teaching and learning in their school. Part of this understanding will come naturally from listening – and contributing – to discussions at leadership team meetings (so if you’re not a member of your school’s leadership team, this can be one of the strong points of your case to become one), but there are other things that it is worth doing to enhance and develop your understanding further. These can include: Meeting with heads of department to get an overview of their subject areas, including the identification of particular issues where you may be able to contribute. These could range from straightforward infrastructure requirements such the installation of additional electrical sockets to make it easier for students to use laptops in lessons, to discussions about introduction of classroom assistants or the resourcing of a new subject at A-level. In addition to the practical outcomes of meetings such as these, you will find that they will help you to develop positive working relationships with departments, which can only benefit the school as a whole. Knowing (and contributing to) school improvement priorities – school improvement planning, focusing on the quality of teaching and learning and the raising of attainment, is a fundamental aspect of the role of the headteacher and leadership team. In recent years there has been a drive to introduce rigorous self-evaluation in schools, and to reinforce the links between this and the improvement planning process. A key document relating to this is the school Self-Evaluation Form (SEF). This form is one of the cornerstones of the new inspection system, and it requires schools to assess their own performance and identify key priorities for development in the following areas: views of learners, parents/carers and other stakeholders achievement and standards personal development and wellbeing quality of provision leadership and management. The SEF self evaluation document is completed by the headteacher, and is available for inspectors to view at any time. In an inspection, it will serve as a basis for discussions with the inspection team, and will enable them to focus on the strengths and weaknesses which have been identified. In addition to its inspection purposes, the SEF is also a valuable tool for continuing school improvement. Its status as a ‘live’ document which is regularly updated means that it is the most current analysis of strengths, weaknesses and development priorities and it thus has a key role to play in informing the school improvement plan (SIP). Ideally, the SIP should focus on identifying actions to address the priorities identified in the SEF, together with any additional development requirements which have not been highlighted in the self-evaluation process. Certainly, there should be clear links between the SEF and the SIP, as they are both important strategic documents which must complement and reinforce one another if school improvement is to be a robust and coherent process. As a key leader in the school, it is important that the business manager is aware of the priorities identified in the SEF and the SIP, and of how he or she can contribute to addressing them. Ways in which this can be achieved will include: costing and resourcing proposed developments and ensuring their inclusion in the annual spending plan ensuring staff and infrastructure support for improvement initiatives (eg data entry staffing for achievement monitoring, network access and technician support for integration of ICT) publicising and promoting school improvement priorities to staff within their area of responsibility. In addition to these practical contributions, an understanding of the broad context of school improvement will enable the business manager to gain more of a feel for the values and direction of the school, and thus become a more effective whole-school leader. Understand national context and initiatives Developments and improvements in schools are not only informed by internal aspects such as the Sel fEvaluation Form, but also by national policies and agendas. It is therefore crucial that you have an overview of any significant national strategies which affect your school and have an impact on provision.