Defining the School Business Manager role in a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)
Local Authority (LA) schools converting to academy status within a MAT will have very experienced administrators who may well be asked to step-up to the role of Academy Business Manager. Many may already have the title of School Business Manager but it would be wrong to assume that the two roles are the same and that an individual can simply transition from one to the other. True, there will be many aspects of the job that have common features but there are considerable new responsibilities that administrators need to cover post conversion.
In community schools many aspects of the administrative function may previously have been shared with a local authority service provider. For example, certain finance functions may have been undertaken by a bursar from the LA’s financial services team, contracts may have been issued centrally by the LA’s HR team and Health and Safety (H&S) inspections may have been undertaken by a LA H&S inspector with little input from school staff. We have even come across situations where the school’s Single Central Record was administered by the Local Authority.
It is our experience that the job descriptions (and the salaries) of existing School Business Managers vary considerably from one Local Authority area to another. The title School Business Manager gives no real indication of what someone does on a day to day basis or what they are paid.
Therefore, we have set out below a list of responsibilities that are most likely to be added to the role post conversion whilst acknowledging that in some cases School Business Managers may have to absorb other duties previously undertaken by the Local Authority.
- Introducing and managing a new financial system across the Trust.
- Preparing the budget.
- Reporting to the EFA.
- Monthly consolidation and reporting to Local Governing Body and Trust.
- Twice yearly meetings with auditors.
- Monitoring of budget against agreed financial targets and preparation of management accounts.
- Ensuring compliance with the Funding Agreement and the Academies Financial Handbook.
- Working closely with colleagues across the Trust to ensure continuity of approach.
- Liaison with payroll and monthly approval of payroll reports prior to payment.
- Understanding the additional and differing demands of working in a company limited by guarantee.
- Maintaining the Single Central Record.
- Undertaking identity and right to work checks and maintaining records.
- DBS and other pre-employment checks as required.
- Preparing staff contracts.
- Maintenance of staff records or managing the HR information system.
- Organising safer recruitment training for governors and staff.
- Monitoring staff absences.
- Regular review of policies and procedures on a cycle agreed by the Trust.
- Joining the Senior Leadership Team
- Managing pupil admissions and possibly the whole admissions process.
- Closer working with the Local Governing Body e.g. attendance at Finance Sub-Committee.
- Increased line management responsibilities e.g. managing the premises officer.
- Increased responsibility for the procurement of goods and services e.g. building insurance.
- Risk Management Assessments e.g. organising Health and Safety Inspections.
- Overarching responsibility to ensure Value for Money.
- Disaster planning and business continuity.
It is our experience that the additional responsibilities placed on School Business Managers are often usefully looked at in a ‘Visioning Exercise’ before any significant decisions are made. Such an exercise will need to consider harmonisation of roles within the MAT, including the role and responsibilities of the Academy Business Managers, alongside any other senior roles such as a Chief Executive Officer or Finance Director. Obviously, this will require the involvement of the existing School Business Managers in strategy meetings that follow on from the original visioning exercise.
The starting point for a successful outcome is to audit what each of the business managers currently do and match this against the new responsibilities that we have described above. Once a common job description has been determined it will then be necessary to consider if any anomalies exist in current terms and conditions across the schools.
The above assumes that within the MAT there will be a Business Manager in each academy. An equally legitimate conclusion arising out of the strategy meetings could be to appoint a Business Director to work across the MAT with administrators based in each school. Many MATs have taken this approach and often call this post Finance Director. However, our view is that this title distorts the role by placing too much emphasis on the finance function at the cost of the equally important responsibilities for HR, Health and Safety, Premises, etc.
At the end of the day each MAT will decide on its own way forward. What is important is that any decisions arrived at are driven by a strategy rather than a set of assumptions.