School business leaders’ review 2018: Be bold and take control

19 Dec 2018, 5:00

Brexit may have dominated the past year, but that shouldn’t stop educators seizing the opportunity to develop their own narrative for a progressive education system, says Stephen Morales

I was impressed by Damian Hinds the first time that I met him at a reception he hosted at Sanctuary Buildings just days after his appointment as education secretary.

He was complimentary about his predecessor, Justine Greening, whom I believe many of us thought was a force for good. He was certainly in listening mode and appeared sympathetic about the key challenges facing the sector: teacher workload, recruitment, assessment, the confusion over the roles of regional school commissioners and Ofsted, and, of course, funding.

As the leader of the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL), it should come as no surprise that I have been encouraged by the faith that Hinds and his ministerial team have put in our professional community to help schools not only survive, but thrive.

The introduction of school resource management advisers (SRMAs) to help schools and trusts improve their financial health and ensure their future sustainability is importantly symbolic for the school business leadership community. Despite some headlines suggesting that the SRMA initiative is lining the pockets of expensive consultants, in reality most advisers are practising school business leader (SBLs) whose deployment fees will go back to their schools.

This initiative, led by the expert knowledge and experience of practising SBLs, has already saved schools an estimated £35 million.

The test for the education secretary as we approach 2019 will be: beyond the warm words and supportive rhetoric, what has actually changed for schools and their leaders?

We must not hang on for dear life to the status quo

Recent television documentaries have painted a very gloomy picture (a picture that I don’t recognise as typical) and 2,000 headteachers marching on Downing Street suggests everything isn’t rosy in the education garden.

As education leaders, we often criticise the government for over-prescription, constant change and piling on new initiatives. Perhaps with the government in near paralysis over Brexit, it is the right time for us to take the initiative and seize the opportunity to develop our own narrative for a progressive education system that we all believe in.

If we are to develop as a truly sector-led, self-improving system, we must begin to take control with a solution-based approach underpinned by evidence not anecdote.

Whilst it is right and appropriate that we continue to challenge government policy, we should be careful that negativity and pessimism don’t begin to define us and come at the expense of a more positive and progressive dialogue that encourages innovation and appropriate change. We must not hang on for dear life to the status quo, entrenched behaviours and outdated approaches to the running of our schools.

There is no doubt that 2018 has been a difficult year; cost pressures are taking a firm hold, there are more children with special education needs and the current political uncertainty is fuelling division within our communities.

In November, 300 school business leaders attended ISBL’s national conference. Despite the political and fiscal backdrop, all the delegates were optimistic and had a can-do attitude. They recognised the challenges, but demonstrated determination, resilience and resolve, despite the obstacles, barriers and difficult decisions.

As educators we must try to remain optimistic and enthusiastic if we wish to inspire the young people we serve. Let’s try to do the best with the resources available to us, let’s be brave enough to prioritise what’s important and what’s not, let’s think creatively, let’s not get bogged down by bureaucracy and compliance and let’s be bold with a vision for our own education system.

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