Speech: Sam Gyimah: the vital role of the school business professional

Thank you for that very kind introduction.

It’s a real pleasure for me to be here today.

Background and wider context

Across the public sector, we know the challenge over the next Parliament will be this: how can we deliver world-class public services whilst spending within our means?

And what this boils down to is simple: good financial management.

It is vital that our public services make the most effective and efficient use of the resources they are given, ultimately from the taxpayer. This is not just a ‘nice to have’ – it is core and fundamental to each and every school.

For schools to deliver the high standards we expect of them, they must start from a position of strong financial management.

School business managers

School business management has changed dramatically in recent years. The number of school business managers, bursars, finance directors and finance officers in our state-maintained schools has now almost tripled since 2005.

‘The age of the school business manager’ report published this year highlights that 90% of secondary schools have access to a school business manager, making them an integral part of the system. You are enabling schools to be more innovative and autonomous in freeing themselves from local authority control and being responsible for their own decisions and strategy. And I have great expectations that your role will become even more fundamental to schools across the country.

It is obvious to everyone in this room today but it is worth saying again: the role of the school business manager is far more than simply managing the finances of a school. The role encompasses far more because the distinction between the back office and the frontline is false.

You are all part of the frontline.

You are all directly enabling schools to drive up their performance which ultimately impacts outcomes for their pupils.

You are all playing a vital role in the strategic direction and governance of schools.

And, as a result, you are having a direct impact on the success of our education system as a whole.

Over the last Parliament, we had a laser focus on driving up educational standards.

We drove a culture of high expectations for all. And began our mission to spread educational excellence everywhere.

But, underpinning educational excellence is sound financial management.

Higher spending per pupil does not in and of itself equal better attainment. Educational systems around the world show this. It is good spending which drives this improvement in schools, and that is why your role is so important.

The professional standards framework we are launching today will formalise this valuable role further. Defining more clearly the characteristics of a good school business manager will help to further demonstrate the importance of the job and the expertise required, raising the status of your profession in the process.

‘The age of the school business manager’ report also provides encouraging reading on this point.
Two years ago, fewer than half of respondents from senior leadership teams believed the school business manager role was valuable or essential. That figure now stands at well over 80%; a dramatic increase in such a short space of time.

Publishing these standards is, therefore, a fantastic opportunity to remind the sector of the crucial value you add.

But the discipline of school business management should not be restricted only to those who call themselves school business managers. Governors, headteachers, senior leadership and CEOs of multi-academy trusts all have an important part to play in the strategic direction of schools, and they will increasingly rely on you for your knowledge and expertise: in generating income, in asset management, in procurement, in HR, in health and safety; if I continued with this list my speech would have to be very long indeed!

Funding reform

We all want the same thing from our schools, to extend opportunity and deliver a world-class education to every young person across the country, so that everyone, no matter where they come from, has a fair shot to succeed. Subsequently, we all want schools to be funded fairly, rather than as a result of history.

Raising standards

Fairer funding will channel resources to the schools where they are needed most and can have the greatest impact.

Our aim as a government is simple – to achieve educational excellence, everywhere. To allow us to do this effectively, we need to make sure that schools are correctly funded to reflect the needs of their pupils.

Efficiency

I’m sure I am preaching to the choir when I also say that schools have a duty to spend the money they receive efficiently. We know that by continuously pushing to find the best deals and value for money in schools’ procurement spend, the money saved can be used to improve the frontline service that children benefit from every day.

Given the difficult financial climate we find ourselves in as a country, it is more important now than ever that schools are relentless in their drive to squeeze the best value out of every pound and penny they receive.

And this is one of the many areas where your work as school business managers is so vital. Now is the time for you to have a huge impact on schools. Ten years ago, schools were reliant on local authorities without the autonomy to act independently.

Now, though the academies programme, more and more schools are more autonomous than ever, giving frontline professionals the freedom to think innovatively and creatively about how to make the best use of funding for your pupils.

For some, this is the effective procurement and management of HR support or property maintenance – for others it is supporting the purchase of frontline intervention services to benefit those students receiving the pupil premium. Your role is strategic – supporting the whole school from back-office functions through to classroom support that directly drives outcomes for pupils.

Once again, ‘The age of the school business manager’ report highlights important evidence, that “appropriately skilled and effectively deployed” school business managers can provide the senior leadership team in schools with a 33% gain in efficiency.

In practice, this means they can put more of their time into the classroom, making even more of a difference to those children that need it most – highlighting once again the impact that you all can have on frontline services for pupils.

Collaboration

We also know that the most effective schools often work in collaboration with others. They share knowledge, skills, experience and resources in order to achieve their goals.

This can be done formally through multi-academy trusts, in federations, or as part of a teaching school network, or less formally, through clustering arrangements or collaborative procurement arrangements.

And we want school business managers to be at the forefront of this. To be leading the way and demonstrating how much you have gained, and will continue to gain in future, by working together.

Because it is through communities of professionals such as NASBM that we see a truly sustainable and effective way of spreading expertise, innovation and understanding across the sector. And it is through resolute advice from school business managers that school leaders will be convinced of the need to work with other schools to ensure that money is used as efficiently as possible to drive down costs.

Challenges

When I met Stephen [Morales, Executive Director of the National Association of School Business Management] earlier this year, we discussed some of the challenges that school business managers face in schools.

Foremost amongst them was not being listened to. How can you effect changes in schools if senior leaders do not listen to the messages you are giving them?

So I hope that governors, headteachers, and CEOs of multi-academy trusts across the country will take note now when I say – that this government supports you and this government will continue to support you, because we know how important your role is. Every day, your work underpins the great teaching in our schools and unlocks our goal of educational excellence, everywhere.

And, as I mentioned at the start of my speech, the professional standards framework we are launching today will only increase your standing and reputation, as experts in your field.

I am sure this association will go from strength to strength over the coming years. I thank you for the hard work you have done so far, and I eagerly await hearing about the successes I know you will make in the future.

Thank you so much for having me.

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