Why you should (virtually) hug your school's business manager
By Emma Westwood
Writer | Editor | Content & Digital Strategist
We asked our partners at Cole School Experts to unpick the very important (yet sometimes overlooked) role of the School Business Manager. This is what they had to say...
The role of the Business Manager in keeping the administration side of schools functioning at full capacity has revealed its importance in this (sudden) age of remote learning.
Though commonly not being acknowledged as a business, schools are in fact a business with significant assets and income, as well as being large employers. However, they are not like any commercial business, instead operating within a unique sector and a closed environment.
Within schools, there is, frequently, a cultural gap between teaching and non-teaching roles because, for the most part, there is no natural link between the roles and responsibilities of teaching staff to that of school administrators.
The Business Manager - critical to successful schools
The most senior non-teaching role within a school is generally the Business Manager, a role that is both broad and deep. They are often responsible for:
In addition to these operational duties, Company Secretary, Strategic and Leadership responsibilities are regularly required by the role.
The role of Business Manager can also be isolating. This is because of a combination of the natural segregation of duties and objectives with the teaching fraternity, the role often having no peers within the organisation and the uniqueness of the responsibilities both in the school and compared to other industry sectors. Furthermore, for some, their Principal’s expertise does not extend to the non-teaching side of the school, creating further sole responsibility that requires trust and a successful working relationship to ensure both succeed.
Due to the scope of the role, there is limited opportunity to create a backup role with the entire required skillset or produce comprehensive procedures for the role of Business Manager. If a Business Manager resigns, the resignation from this role sees not only the loss of a critical resource in the school but, additionally, the loss of unique knowledge and experience of both the individual school and, more macro, the school sector. The exit of the Business Manager is a high risk for the school.
Gone? The risks
In addition to the typical career changes in most industries, why do Business Managers change employment?
Sometimes, it is due to the incumbent not being aware of the level of stress and responsibility that comes with the role. Often, compared to roles with similar titles in other businesses, the number of tasks, the unique reporting requirements, and broad and varied scope of the Business Manager role is not fully appreciated at the outset. The school business requires a continual interaction and relationship management with parents and the school community, which some incumbents will have little or no experience. Employees in the Business Manager role find out quickly that the role is complex, comes with a high workload and problems can appear from multiple directions, sometimes all at once.
The loss of a Business Manager could put a school back by several months or, if they were a long-term employee, a year or more. Even if the incumbent to the role is an experienced Business Manager, it will take time to understand the specific school with its unique staff, culture, systems and community. The effect is not just on business activities either; due to the range of responsibility and the substantial influence a Business Manager has on a school, the change can be far-reaching – it can influence leadership styles, strategic outlook, stability of both teaching and non-teaching teams, governance, and the implementation of educational building and system projects.
If the Business Manager is a long-term employee, the risk of ‘departure’ is not just a permanent resignation either. The Long Service Leave employment provisions means that a significant period of absence from school is very likely, which could affect the school in a very similar style to a permanent loss. It is therefore extremely important that the school leadership group maintains good communication with their Business Manager and their team regarding Long Service Leave plans and contingencies.
Along with the above reasons and retirement, none of this takes into account the additional risk of unexpected and unplanned absences like illness, injury – or worse!
When a school employs a Business Manager who has yet to experience that specific school, there is definitely a required and unique learning curve. For example, schools use specific software to manage the school. Without school experience, they will not have experience using the software or be able to support team members who also interact with the system. Then, there are the issues around government funding and specific reporting requirements. There is also the matter of dealing with parents who owe fees. The commercial business norms simply do not apply.
Staff - who is looking after them?
Despite the number of employees, not all schools have a Human Resource Manager, and those who do often use an ex-teacher whose focus is naturally on the teaching roles. Consequently, management of human resources typically becomes the responsibility of the Business Manager, often in conjunction with the Principal.
When the recruitment of new administration staff is required, albeit some senior roles can be outsourced to employment agencies, it is once more the Business Manager who takes responsibility for the process. This process, more than any other business function in the school, requires a unique skill-set and high level of diligence to effectively deal with policy, employment awards, people management, etc.
The fulfilment of the Human Resource role by the Business Manager further highlights the risk of the most senior operational position leaving the school. The operational need, the instrument for its replacement and the resource to manage the disruption have all ‘left the building’ if the Business Manager vacates! This is an extremely high risk for the efficient running of the school.
Outsourcing and virtual business managers
Through roles that report to the Business Manager and the effective use of systems, schools can certainly limit the problems if a Business Manager were to leave. All finance, administration and payroll roles can write procedures, design automation and systems to their key tasks, and have fellow employees trained in backing up the core tasks of a role.
However, depending on the complexity of the individual school – its unique processes, the personalities and skills of its operational team, etc. – there is only so much adequate contingency that can be planned in advance. There is always a substantial level of risk that remains with the potential of the Business Manager not being there.
How can Cole School Experts help?
Cole School Experts services fits into a school in a variety of ways. In terms of a Business Manager role, we offer locum services:
We can place a skilled school experienced Business Manager into a Business Manager role for the period from the Business Manager resigning and leaving until the new Business Manager begins in the role.
Cole School Experts can also provide other skilled resources for schools to cover other roles. This mainly occurs where there is longer term leave taken by an employee – be that annual, long service or maternity leave.