More school business managers must “aspire” to become senior executives as the rise in multi-academy trusts – and damaging financial scandals – require greater scrutiny of school accounts, says Stephen Morales, chief executive of the National Association of School Business Management (NASBM).
Morales (pictured) told Schools Week at the association’s annual conference in Birmingham this week that he was “battling” to get more managers to leave their local roles, particularly in primary schools, and fill a need for strong financial oversight across multiple schools.
Of 16,000 school business managers, a sample survey by NASBM showed that 10 per cent were senior executives of large schools or multiple-academy trusts (MATs) – while the majority (50 per cent) held “varying degrees of influence” in leadership roles within single schools, and a large proportion (40 per cent) were in smaller-scale administrative roles.
With schools increasingly joining trusts and rising instances of visible financial malpractice, many managers needed new training to fill a looming gap, Morales said.
The elephant in the room really is, do you regard yourself as a professional?
“The elephant in the room really is, do you regard yourself as a professional? That 10 per cent of senior executives has to get bigger. With the rise of MATs and other types of collaborative structure, and an almost systematic dismantling of local authorities, oversight has to come from somewhere else – and it isn’t naturally going to come from a senior leadership team that doesn’t have the expertise.
“Ten per cent out of 16,000 is not enough. If we end up in 2024 with 5,000 [trusts] presiding over 27,000 schools, for example, then we will need in the region of 5,000 executives in those roles.”
Yet many local school business managers felt attached to their local schools and were less willing to pursue schemes such as the School Business Director apprenticeship set to be launched in September next year, he said.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), warned that trust in school finances had been “rocked by financial scandals” including second salaries, related party transactions and “employing relatives”.
The case of Durand Academy had also provoked an outcry over poor financial oversight at government level.
Speaking later to Schools Week, Hobby said a business manager’s monitoring of a “superhead’s” practices was increasingly important.
“What we really need is someone who knows the school – this idea that you can manage it remotely…creates too much room for manoeuvre.
“Ultimately the head retains accountability. But when you’re insulated from challenge, and everyone just agrees with everything you say, which is a symptom of the superhead scenario, then unless you’ve got someone by your side who will say ‘hold on, is that wise?’, you end up in trouble.”
The conference also heard that membership of the association is up from 1,800 in 2013 to 3,200 this year.