SAS survey summary 2016
During the spring term 2016, Schools Advisory Service and the National Association of School Business Managers ran an online survey of school business managers, which sought their views on their increasing responsibilities and associated professional liability.
- School business managers are experiencing increasing levels of responsibility in their schools.
- This is due, in part, to the fact that more schools are becoming academies.
- School business managers are acutely aware of their legal responsibilities and associated professional liabilities.
- School business managers most frequently cite the role as being ‘demanding’ and ‘challenging’.
The survey attracted responses from business managers working across a range of phases and settings, of which 79 per cent were from primary schools, 13 per cent secondary, 7 per cent from special schools and 1 per cent from post-16 institutions.
The majority (62 per cent) of school business managers responding to the survey had been in post for more than five years, with only 5 per cent being new in post (less than 1 year).
93 per cent of the respondents had line management responsibility for at least one person, with the largest percentage (32 per cent) having responsibility for between two and five colleagues. The next largest group (24 per cent) had line management responsibility for a large number of colleagues (more than ten).
Whilst 69 per cent of the school business managers were a member of their school’s SLT, this leaves nearly a third (31 per cent) not having this level of seniority, which is surprising given the increasing responsibilities of school business managers in a school-led system.
However, 87 per cent of the respondents stated that they had reported directly to their school’s governing body during the last six months, which also demonstrates the level of responsibility held by those in the school business manager role.
When asked to pick three areas where they felt the school business manager role had changed the most in the last three years, the following comprised the top three:
- Increased hours and demands of the job generally (72 per cent)
- More financial responsibility (56 per cent)
- More HR responsibilities (44 per cent)
Respondents were asked to pick three aspects of their role which they felt presented the most professional risk to them – the following comprised the majority of responses:
- Accounting and financial management (83 per cent)
- Health and safety (55 per cent)
- Academy conversion (54 per cent)
- HR responsibilities (53 per cent)
Only 24 per cent of respondents stated that their school had converted to academy status since 2010 – not a surprising figure since the majority of the respondents were from primary schools, of which only 18 per cent are academies.
Of those school business managers whose schools have not yet converted to academy status, 48 per cent said they planned to do so by setting up a new multi-academy trust; with a further 41 per cent planning on joining an existing multi-academy trust. Only 11 per cent planned to establish a stand-alone academy – perhaps a reflection on the direction of government policy regarding multi-academy trusts.
Reflecting the original aim in the government’s white paper ‘Educational excellence everywhere’, which said that all schools should be academies by 2022, respondents were asked when they expected to make this transition. The majority of respondents (40 per cent) indicated that they expected to make the transition between 2020 and 2022; with 31 per cent expecting to do so within the next 12-18 months; and 29 per cent between 2018 and 2020. This perhaps reflects the general reluctance of primary schools to leave local authority oversight, thus leaving the transition process as late as possible relative to the government’s (then) timetable for action.
Of the 32 school business managers whose schools had converted to academy status, 94 per cent stated that conversion had increased their legal responsibilities, with the remaining 6 per cent saying there had been no change. No respondents stated that their legal responsibilities had decreased.
When asked what level of confidence they had in their current levels of professional liability cover, of all the business managers who felt that their legal responsibilities as an SBM had grown, 82 per cent stated that they had ‘high’ (18 per cent) or ‘some’ (64 per cent) confidence in their level of cover – leaving 18 per cent with ‘low’ confidence.
None of the school business managers responding to the question had ever had cause to call on their professional liability cover in the course of their work.
When asked for what three aspects of the role they felt they would benefit from more support / training, respondents cited the following most frequently:
- Accounting and financial management (57 per cent)
- HR responsibilities (53 per cent)
- Health and safety (42 per cent)
When asked for the top three areas where they seek information on changes in policy, guidance, legislation, etc, the school business managers cited the following most frequently:
- Professional associations (78 per cent)
- Peer networks (73 per cent)
- The web (69 per cent)
Respondents cited the following as the top three areas where they seek information on funding and grant opportunities for their school:
- The web (77 per cent)
- Professional associations (68 per cent)
- Peer networks (66 per cent)
Unsurprisingly, these two results are very similar, indicating that school business managers rely heavily on professional associations and peer networks, as well as general website searches, for their policy and funding information.
When asked which three characteristics best described their role, school business managers cited the following descriptions by far the most frequently:
- Demanding (70 per cent)
- Challenging (67 per cent)
Some respondents also described the role as ‘unpredictable’ and ‘stressful’. In contrast, fewer respondents stated that they found the role ‘fulfilling’ and ‘enjoyable’. These comments perhaps reflect the increasingly high levels of professional responsibility experienced by school business managers.