School business leaders: 2017 year in review

Following a relative period of stability, Stephen Morales is anticipating much-needed change in 2018

From a policy perspective, 2017 could be characterised more by what hasn’t been achieved than what has.

Following her appointment as secretary of state for education, Justine Greening moved to scrap a number of policies, including forced SATs resits for 11-year-olds and proposals to force schools to academise.

The vulnerability of the PM and the dominating nature of Brexit have left little room for Greening to push forward her own reform agenda, and she has been limited to administering existing reforms and ensuring limited turbulence across the sector. Gone are the multiple bold initiatives from the Gove era, and even Nicky Morgan’s white paper has been significantly diluted.

On the upside, a period of stability without constant reform and change is probably being well received by school leaders.

Here’s a quick canter through 2017:


The DfE was forced to respond to issues raised in an NAO report on financial sustainability published in December. The report was sceptical about the government’s capacity to meet efficiency targets for the education sector within this parliament.

Where there are some efficiencies to be made, in some cases the challenge will be enormous. It will depend on the starting point, the appetite for change and the school or trust’s capacity to be innovative.


Philip Hammond’s spring budget has nothing for schools beyond a commitment to the National Funding Formula.


The slim Tory victory at the snap general election signals the end of some of their bolder policy ambitions, including forced academisation and the reintroduction of grammar schools.


In response to the electorate’s disquiet over austerity, Justine Greening secures £1.3 billion in additional funding for schools, and launches a National Funding Formula with a commitment that no school will lose out. This is achieved by increasing funding to lowest-funded schools and protecting more generously-funded schools from any losses.


The autumn budget passes with no consideration for, or comment on, schools.

So, we might conclude that in 2017 our government gave to us:

1. Brexit dominating everything

2. An election car-crash

3. A weakened government

4. Stalled policies

5. A partially reformed school support and oversight system

6. Positive steps towards a NFF, but the government still needs to grasp the nettle of redistribution

7. Continued austerity

8. No sector-wide efficiency approach

9. A vacuum in leadership development

10. Teacher retention challenges

11. No clear vision for operational excellence and organisational design

12. Lack of clarity on sector oversight

Never mind a partridge in a pair tree. But the good news is…

The government has had no real choice but to reassess school funding, following increasing pressure from school leaders and education stakeholder groups. This has
put school business professionals front and centre in the approach used to address the challenges of school financial health, resource management, organisational design and strategic procurement.

The DfE has acknowledged the unique skills of the school business leader community, as well as their experience and knowledge, and will be deploying practitioners to support vulnerable schools and academies under the guidance of ISBL in the New Year.

The opportunities for forward thinking and innovative school business leaders are now enormous, not only operating on the front line, but also informing the wider system reform debate. Roll on 2018!

Stephen Morales is chief executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership

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