The state of post-election education

While Minters and officials settle into their new post-election roles, the sector is trying to make sense of the policy trajectory of an unconstrained Tory majority government. At the same time the sector is being encouraged to self-manage continuous improvement and we are seeing the emergence of a number of stakeholder initiatives to drive-up standards.
We have experienced five years of system change and a fragmentation of provision. In a push for decentralisation, autonomy and choice the coalition government moved us from a position of relative uniformity and certainty to one where market forces are being encouraged to prevail.
The National Association of School Business Management (NASBM) is not an advocate, for or against, the current landscape. It has created new opportunities for some schools and presented real challenges for others. International research into high performing education systems suggests that systems benefit from a degree of latitude that encourage innovation and creative leadership but that first there needs to be structural maturity.
It is probably reasonable to expect yet more upheaval and change during this parliament. The manifesto sets clear expectations of schools and places a responsibility on high performing institutions to support schools that need to improve. Complacency under the banner of ‘coasting’ (yet to be clearly defined, only a draft definition has been released to date) will lead to more intense scrutiny from OFSTED and the evolving remit of the schools regional commissioner could in some circumstances require a school to consider its options within a multi-academy structure.
This Tory party are unapologetic with their ambition to reduce public sector spending in order to reduce government debt. With this backdrop, the Department for Education will make identifying further efficiency a key priority for all schools.

Looking ahead
It is therefore important to ask, what does this mean for school leaders? We can expect unfunded new cost pressures with a flat cash school budget settlement, and an evolving middle tier via School Commissioners – whose clear remit is yet to be clearly understood.
Furthermore, it would not be surprising to see the Royal College of Teaching and  he Leadership Foundation positioning themselves in order to take ownership of teaching standards, head teacher development and succession. Likewise, a further acceleration of the academies programme is to be expected and ‘coasting’ schools will most likely be put under increased scrutiny and pressure to academise.
This all means inevitable increased direct accountability to match new levels of autonomy, an increase in the number of small/medium MATs adopting corporate governance and management structures, the centralisation of some functions and leadership responsibilities and a need to develop internal capacity to respond the new local complexity in the system.

School Business Management
How has the School Business Management (SBM) role evolved over the last two decades and is the profession ready to rise to the challenges presented by this new landscape?
Lets take a quick canter through the history of the SBM profession. As recently as the late 1980s, School Business Management was a foreign concept in schools. The autonomy afforded to schools during the period of the education sectors evolution, that included LMS and GM status, led schools to think carefully about their internal capacity to respond to a range of activities previously discharged via the local authority.

During the early 1990s we began to see a proliferation of the Bursar role in state secondary schools. This role was already well-established in the independent sector but not well understood in state settings.
By the end of the 1990s ‘New Labour’ made a commitment to teacher workforce reforms designed to remove administrative burdens from teachers and principals.  As we moved into the new millennium the Government took significant steps, through the National College, to develop a suitably trained workforce to respond to the administrative demands on schools.
The original target was to train 1,000 School Business Managers by 2006. The National College has since trained close to 10,000 practitioners across four broad programmes of study from the Certificate in School Business Management (level 4) to the School Business Director Programme (level 7). The latest workforce census (during 2011) suggests there are circa 16,000 practitioners in the system.
The Coalition Government introduced the Academy Bill in 2010. This offered schools new levels of autonomy but under a rigorous accountability framework and new challenges for schools in terms of financial reporting. As the number of academies has increased and cuts in public sector spending have taken hold local authorities have struggled to maintain central services. Schools are increasingly required to manage complex operational areas via their own internal capacity.
These operational or functional areas inevitably include Finance, HR, Procurement, Infrastructure and Marketing and whilst the National College programmes have helped education leaders develop rounded contextual knowledge its programmes of study have perhaps fallen short in addressing technical competency and knowledge. The existing community of SBM practitioners (circa 16,000) include a very broad mix of ability, experience, competency and knowledge from aspiring Finance Administrators to highly skilled and qualified Directors or COOs.
The majority of practitioners are committed individuals that have added enormous value in their own individual settings at every level of the profession. The pace of change in the education sector and policy reforms encouraging schools to be far more self-sufficient has required us to revisit the characteristics of our management teams in order thrive with these new levels of autonomy.

What needs to be done?
The SBM profession needs a revised reference point that responds to this new landscape and associated CPD content needs to be relevant and fit for purpose in this new environment. Schools and academies are expected to identify further efficiencies and paying lip-service to the concept of value for money is not enough.
With increased local autonomy schools and academies are expected to review every aspect of their operations and legacy organisational structures. The Department for Education needs to provide confidence in a self-improving system that it is capable of developing organisational structures that ensure resources and expertise are deployed in the most effective way to ensure optimum learning outcomes for all children.
If we accept that this needs to be achieved within a backdrop of a more challenging fiscal environment and a dilution of local authority support, schools and academies will need to assess their capacity to cope with the new-landscape. This will mean;  training, recruiting and retaining  appropriately experienced and qualified professionals, sharing/combining leadership capacity through collaboration, federations, trusts or mergers, adopting corporate structures sharing/ spreading strategic expertise, looking closely at the duplication of effort and expense across schools, embracing technology to improve efficiency and looking beyond education for industry best practice and operational effectiveness.

The standards framework
In response to these new challenges the National Association of School Business Management has developed a national professional standards framework for school business management. These standards have been developed in conjunction with a range of key stakeholders including, the Department for Education and other government agencies, relevant professional bodies, unions, national associations, universities and practitioners. The standard draw from a wealth of empirical evidence, international research and industry best practice.
As well as providing the blueprint for effective practice the standards will serve as a tool for recruitment, performance management and career progression. All future school business management related CPD should be underpinned by the standards.
We also hope that schools will choose to use the standards to self-evaluate their own overall operational effectiveness.
NASBM believes that the role deserves professional status.  Through the professional standards framework practitioners will be able to apply for formal professional recognition by demonstrating their level of engagement across each section. There will be a formal award for each stage of their professional journey from Affiliate (those aspiring) Member (established practitioners) Fellow (sector leaders) Chartered Fellows (exceptional contribution to practice). Professional status will require a continued commitment to ongoing CPD, a code of ethics and system leadership.

Further information