The past 15 months have been nothing short of brutal for school staff. The constant deluge of government guidance, the last-minute changes to national policy, the requirements to set up remote learning – and even remote food provision – have all led to a huge increase in workload.
While there has been some acknowledgement from the government of the impact of these new demands, one group of professionals seems to be repeatedly overlooked when these pressures are being discussed: school business leaders.
Like all other members of school staff, school business leaders have stepped up and more than played their part in the response to the pandemic. In many schools, it was their business leaders who had to try to make the hapless government’s free school meal voucher scheme work – in many cases staying up until the early hours of the morning in order to access the system when there was less traffic. For that alone, they surely deserve a medal.
It’s also been school business leaders, alongside other senior leaders, who have propped up the test and trace system in schools over the past year. As a recent NAHT survey demonstrated, this on its own has equated to an extra seven school days worked.
School business leaders: Making the impossible possible
It’s little wonder then, that feedback from our business-leader members earlier this year found that more than a third were working between six and 10 additional hours a week as a result of the pandemic.
School business leaders have continued to grapple with ever-stretched school budgets, which have been battered on all fronts: the costs of following Covid safety rules, supply costs to cover for sick and isolating colleagues, and lost income from rentals and lettings.
And it was school business leaders who calculated the impact of the changes to pupil premium funding from the Department for Education (DfE), which would effectively wipe out the already limited amount being given to schools in Covid-19 recovery funding.
And that’s not to mention the huge range of challenges that they have experienced in balancing on-site and remote provision, alongside wider staff anxieties and workload.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has provided schools with endless logistical challenges, and, in many cases, school business leaders have led the way in navigating a path through the challenge. Once again, they have proven themselves to be an essential part of school leadership teams.
I have always been inspired by the incredible dedication of our school business members and their ability to make the seemingly impossible possible. The past year or so has only served to elevate that higher.
That’s why the NAHT is delighted to be supporting the inaugural National School Business Leaders’ Day, on 11 June 2021. It’s a great opportunity to take stock and celebrate the incredible contributions that school business leaders have made to improving the lives of children and young people in their schools and communities. Without effective school business leadership, we can’t deliver our education system.
Covid in schools: managing pay and workload
However, it also offers a chance to look forward and to consider what the system and the profession might need in the future.
The system, and school business leadership, is diverse. This means there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all approach. However, we also know that there are some common aspects that come up time and again.
For many school business leaders, it means ensuring that their role is recognised and valued – that they are included in the necessary strategic conversations, and their remuneration reflects their level of seniority and responsibility.
That’s why we advocate for schools to ensure that their school business leader is on the senior leadership team – and that they are paid accordingly. They are fundamental to a school’s success.
However, we also recognise some of the system barriers to this and that’s why we continue to press for a broader review of pay, one that recognises a national pay framework comparable to that of other senior leadership positions.
Set alongside this are the incredible pressures on leaders – and many school business leaders are certainly feeling the strain.
We know from our own research, and that of others, that the majority of school leaders work excessively long hours, often devoting time in the evenings, at weekends and during school holidays. Yet, too often, consideration of workload support for school leaders is forgotten – and this can be particularly the case for school business leaders.
That’s why we continue to press government and its partners to take much greater consideration of leadership workload and wellbeing, to consider all new initiatives through this lens and to ensure that this consideration covers all types of leadership, including school business leadership.
We also advocate for far greater support for new leaders, recognising that this can be a time where the pressure can feel particularly acute.
As the profession has evolved and the complexity of the role has increased so, too, have the demands and skills required for the job. While there is a range of opportunities for professional development within the sector, workload and cost can work against this, reducing the ability for some to engage in high-quality continuing professional development.
That’s why, alongside our campaigning in terms of workload, we continue to press for more subsidised training and support for school business leaders.
All of this is important, not just at an individual level but for the workforce as a whole. We need to ensure that the school business leadership role offers an attractive option for those contemplating a career in the education sector, in order to ensure a future pipeline of these critical leadership roles.
This blog was first published on the TES.