My SBM Life by Leigh-Anne Sullivan

What’s your job title and the name of your school?

School Business Manager at The Rise School, Feltham, the first school in the Ambitious About Autism Schools Trust, a special needs all-through free school for children and young people with autism.

How long have you been an SBM?

I have officially been an SBM for 3 years.

What was your path to SBM?

I started my journey in education in March 2014 by becoming a Receptionist at a Service Children Education (SCE) School in Germany. With the fast-paced nature of military life, this role soon expanded due to the drawdown of the military in Germany and before I knew it, it was time to return to the UK. I then began working in a one-form entry state maintained primary school in West London as a School Administrator/PA to Headteacher in September 2015, a role that very quickly developed into so much more. Whilst there I completed my Level 4 Diploma in School Business Management. I won’t lie, I found the course a challenge, juggling work, a military lifestyle, a young child and studying, however with hard work and perseverance got through it and passed! (Only just, but a pass is a pass!)

I took a risk applying for a position that on paper I probably wouldn’t get, but hey if you don’t try how will you ever know? I made it through to the interview stage and as luck would have it, I got the call offering me the position. I made the very difficult decision to leave the school that had supported me in my first step to becoming an SBM. It was bittersweet but my colleagues were supportive and understood that this was an opportunity that was too good to pass. I have been at The Rise for a year and a half now, it has been exciting, full of new adventures and experiences and I am so happy to have taken that risk on the job I never thought I would get.

How would you describe the role of an SBM?

Fast-paced and varied, no two days are the same and you absolutely need to be the wearer of many hats whilst juggling all of the balls and spinning every plate. That said, it is absolutely worth it, knowing that you are a part of a person’s improved quality of life.

What are the 5 top key elements of your role?

  1. Financial Management
  2. Health and Safety
  3. Human Resources
  4. Premises Management
  5. People

What characteristics do you believe make for a Smart SBM?

An SBM absolutely needs to be proactive, they need to be willing to embrace and lead change. A smart SBM needs to be prepared to continuously develop, listen and know when to ask others for support and advice.

Why do schools need an SBM?

Schools need SBMs to ensure that the operations of the school run efficiently and effectively. This in turn supports the Headteacher and leadership team to deliver a high-quality provision with clear outcomes. Ultimately giving the pupils that attend a safe environment to learn and thrive in.

Have you ever reached the bottom of your to-do list?

There is a bottom? The short answer is no, the list will forever continue and that is OK.

What’s your top tip for saving time at work?

Make use of the resources you have, Outlook calendar is an essential, it helps me organise my entire life! Make lists, it helps to prioritise. Know when you can delegate, if you have expertise or interest to grow in your team absolutely enable and empower them. Yes, sometimes it is quicker to do it yourself but actually think of the possibilities when you have those skills expanded within your team.

What’s your top tip for saving your school money?

Always ask the supplier if they can do it for a better price. Absolutely research alternative resources, many companies offer a price match and some even offer to maintain this price for a fixed term! Try to meet with contractors face to face, sell them your vision, why you are doing this, let them become invested in your reasons why, and build relationships, even if they are unsuccessful. Building that relationship is what then leads to us as SBMs recommending to colleagues.

What’s your biggest pain point when it comes to procurement?

It has to be the time it takes to get 3 quotes. I totally understand why this is required but I have genuinely had some companies refuse to quote as they have previously and been unsuccessful, they feel it is a waste of their time and to some extent that is true.

Most SBMs we meet say that networking is a key to the role – what’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from one of your SBM peers?

The most valuable things I have learnt from a colleague is that there is an entire Twitter world of SBL/SBM/SBPs and that they are there to offer support and guidance as well as many laughs. This role can at times feel like an isolated one and by joining twitter and gaining confidence in being a part of the conversation I know that no question is silly and that we are all here, no matter how far, to support each other.

Tell us about an hour of your day today

It is all about the finance today, preparing our year end and our fast encroaching audit. Checking through commitment reports, matching delivery notes to purchase orders and then finding the invoices in the mountain of post/emails that we have received over the summer holidays.

What’s the last thing, professionally, that surprised you?

I still find it surprising that the role remains unknown to many people within education. An example of this is how I was once asked why I had said I was unable to do something ‘right now’, as I was really busy, when all I do is ‘answer phones and open the gate!’

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an SBM?

The relationships that you make with staff, pupils and their families. Seeing pupils flourish and achieve what they felt was impossible.

SBM, SBP or SBL – where do you stand on the title?

I continue to see myself as an SBM, I think this is because I still feel so new to the role and have so much left to learn.

How do you see the role of SBM within the SLT?

Essential! How can we make things happen if we haven’t been a part of the conversation? The SBM brings experience to the table in areas outside of teaching and learning, is this idea financially viable, sustainable, resourced, if not what can we change to make it so, what is the solution?

How important do you think the headteacher / SBM relationship is?

The relationship is crucial. It is probably the most important relationship in your professional career, you cannot operate effectively if you do not get along. Both roles are challenging and isolated in different ways, offering support or a listening ear when making difficult decisions is vital.

What do you think is the key to a good headteacher / SBM relationship?

The key is to listen. The headteacher is a visionary, you need to be able to walk alongside the vision supporting, encouraging and resourcing. Having a relationship based on trust is important, if the time arises where you are challenging one another you know it comes from a good place and you can work together to find the solution.

What advice would you give to someone new coming into an SBM role?

Do not be put off by the fast-paced and varied workload. It will keep you busy but it will keep you interested.

How do you handle a bad day at the office?

Some days can be more challenging that others, on those days I blast the music in the car on my way home singing at the top of my lungs (it is a good job I do not car share, I am terrible).

What do you do to de-stress after a long day at school?

Soak in the bath with a glass of wine. (I probably should have said go to the gym but does anyone really do that?)

If you have one, tell us about your blog / book / Twitter handle?

My twitter handle is @LeighAnneSulli3