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relationship between Head and SBM Comment by Leon De Costa, Judicium Education

There’s little doubt in my mind that the relationship between the Head and School Business Manager is the most crucial one in a school. It’s no exaggeration to say the success or failure of a school will often depend on it.

To make a comparison with the business world, the Head is the equivalent of the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), the School Business Manager the COO (Chief Operating Officer).

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• Inspections: what value should be attributed to online learning?

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The Head, as CEO, tends to focus more on the long-term vision for the school and its education standards. The remit of the SBM (the COO), by contrast, is the day-to- day running of the school — from payroll and HR to administration and general finances.

Different roles, but equally important. Sharing a vision

So what’s the secret to an effective relationship between Head and SBM? We work with schools in every corner of the UK and there’s no doubt that each relationship between SBM and Head is different.

Some are formal, others informal, some involve daily interaction, others a weekly catch-up. It really is horses for courses. However, what you will always find in the most effective relationships between these two key individuals is that they always share the same vision for the school — and work as one to achieve it.

Case Study: Hillcrest

One of the best examples of an effective relationship between Head and SBM, in our experience, is the one between Julie McDonald, Principal, and Gemma Goodall, School Business Manager, at Hillcrest Early Years Academy.

The pair have been working with each other for 15 years. Gemma first joined Hillcrest as an apprentice, eventually taking over the Bursar role and then becoming School Business Manager in 2011, a year before the school converted to an Academy.

Located in an area of perceived deprivation, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, the Hillcrest academy has 212 pupils aged between 3 and 7 and is currently the top performing school in the catchment area.

Key to success

So what’s the key to their successful working relationship?

First and foremost, Julie says Gemma is a fantastic sounding board on any area relating to the school, including staffing issues, not just in relation to payments and accounts, as it would have been with the traditional bursar.

There is also a mutual respect for what the other does and a very close working relationship, which has developed over the years.


“Gemma and I work very closely as a team and everything we do is for the benefit of the children,” says Julie. “There is no, ‘I'm the boss’.

“Although the education decisions are ultimately mine, I will still talk to Gemma about them as I value her views.”


Julie adds: “I also think it’s important that Gemma is a self-starter. We will discuss ideas, often her own, and then she just gets on with making things happen. “She always has a number of mini projects on the go at any one time, from developing and decorating the hallway/reception area to arranging a school-funded trip for the children to go to Euro Disney.

“What she is especially good at, too, is not dismissing any idea for reasons the bursar would traditionally give, namely ‘we don’t have any money’.

“If she likes an idea then she will do her best to find a way to make it work. And that’s certainly one of the many benefits of being an academy: you have the freedom to make things happen. It's so different from the LA days.” Julie and Gemma won't have set meetings every day but will catch up — and when they do they prefer to have informal meetings rather than official ones. “The Governors are also very important for our relationship to work well,” says Julie. “They are very supportive and are always on hand to provide feedback.

Recipe for success

In summary, for Julie and Gemma the key recipe for success is a mixture of a number of things: • Mutual respect and trust • A flat, rather than hierarchical, relationship

• Being able to work independently • Regular meetings • Proactive solution finding • Sharing the same vision

The latter is especially important: if the SBM and Head share the same vision, and know how to act upon it, the chances of success, as Hillcrest underlines, are vastly improved.

June 2014

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