Val continues with her two part blog on ‘The future of business leadership in our education system: what will business leadership look like in 2020?’
At the end of part one of her blog, the questions ‘how will the provision of the business leadership and management function evolve further into the future’, and ‘what are the implications for practitioners’ were posed.
The ASCL Blueprint predicts that fiscal pressures will bring about the demise of smaller standalone institutions which will inevitably be absorbed within collaborative structures. Arguably, this could mean traditional all-encompassing and more generalist roles will completely disappear in favour of more diverse and highly specialised roles. Emerging executive leadership models already incorporate a range of professional expertise, both academic and business-focused, which have the potential to affect the traditional balance previously weighted towards educationalists.
In larger group structures, self- sufficiency dictates the employment of in-house specialists, for example responsible for finance, HR, premises, project management, and possibly legal and marketing. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that some individual schools, in the category of ‘very necessary smaller institutions’, may continue to thrive as individual institutions, providing they can continue to operate in a sustainable way, thus retaining their autonomy. Undoubtedly, these will be a minority group, but the more generalist role of School Business Manager has the potential to continue within such establishments.
Leadership needs strategists
Within the larger structures (MATs, academy chains and other larger federations), there is potential for generalist roles to continue, although some feel this would be operational rather than strategic. An alternative view is there will continue to be a need for specialists working at operational level, and the danger of segregating specialists at leadership level would be the potential for them to “default” to their area of specialism when a more pragmatic solution is required. Leadership needs strategists who can think innovatively but also connect operationally with the issues to be able to deliver workable solutions. Alongside the relentless campaign to improve attainment for young people in the system is an inextricable drive for greater efficiency and the need to demonstrate value for money.
“…school business leaders see the absolute link between value and efficient, effective operation across the entirety of the school – in terms of what is right for young people. They understand the imperative for a lack of orthodoxy in approach and the need to ask tough questions about everything that costs. Which is of course practically everything.” (Allan Foulds 2015)
Some feel despondent that the drive for a self-improving system and in particular the focus on improving the quality of teaching has the potential to eclipse the acknowledgement of this role as an essential and integral part of educational leadership. However, the fact remains that system evolution, which ostensibly brings more autonomy to manage resources at school level, inevitably links educational thinking with business ‘know how’, and regardless of the level of educational expertise, it will be the effective management of all resources that ultimately determines the success of an individual institution.
The ASCL Blueprint also predicts that as clusters of schools become more prevalent, collaboration which brings about the pooling of leadership expertise, both from an academic and a business perspective, has the potential to be a driving force in system-wide improvement, with opportunity to either resist or influence future national policy direction. The immediate impact of a group structure is the potential reduction in leadership posts, thus delivering significant pecuniary advantage. The challenge is to ensure that resultant leadership infrastructures include high calibre, innovative and strategic leaders and managers with wide-ranging expertise in both educational and business disciplines. The current recruitment crisis within the teaching profession will undoubtedly also impact on the supply of competent strategic school leaders.
This really is a defining moment for the school business management/leadership profession. The economic climate is such that it presents opportunity to apply both our specialist business and sector specific skills in support of the quest for improving educational standards, and to demonstrate greater cohesion with our leadership colleagues in our shared moral purpose.
Opportunities to develop
The ongoing evolution of different structures on our landscape will provide options for career development and progression for those ambitious practitioners prepared to take advantage of experiences in different environments, either using specialist skills, choosing to continue operating in a more generalist role or a role that combines the two.
For the time being therefore, a mix of specialist and generalist roles will continue to be a feature within the system. Rather than looking at this as a positive or negative, the balance of strategic and operational responsibilities is probably the key distinction. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model and schools will continue to adapt their leadership structures to afford the necessary local flexibility according to need.
Using the same principles from the ASCL Blueprint there will be specific challenges for practitioners, challenges for government and challenges for national associations like ASCL in supporting the ongoing development of this profession.
Apart from seizing opportunities to practice their resource management skills, practitioners will need to ensure their own skills remain fit for purpose, seeking ongoing and relevant professional development to achieve this. CPD is changing, and many are already entering the profession from the private sector bringing with them a range of external professional business qualifications. For those aspiring to the most strategic roles, an understanding of pedagogy will be essential. The ‘business’ of schools is to educate young people, indelibly linking any business-related activity to that core purpose.
Building relationships and networking both within this profession and in a wider context with other educators will strengthen the potential for acceptance at local, regional and national even international level.
As the ASCL Blueprint states, “The highest form of accountability is the individual’s professional accountability for the quality of his or her own work, and to the people the profession serves.”
The accountability framework continues to evolve and this must be embraced by practitioners. For national associations like ASCL, the challenge will be to continue to raise awareness of and the profile and contribution that school business management and school business leadership professionals make to the ongoing improvement of our education system. They also have a role to play in facilitating and signposting appropriate CPD opportunities, and providing relevant advice and guidance.
It may get messy
The challenge for government will be to formally recognise the significant worth and contribution that these practitioners bring to our system and to facilitate and encourage the removal of barriers which still prevent total inclusion at leadership level in some parts of the sector. This will create the necessary space for us to continue to evolve as an integral part of educational leadership.
However, it would be naïve to expect that the development of professional standards, more consistency and equality of remuneration, or a national set of bespoke professional qualifications alone will provide the recipe for success.
“Messiness in terms of structures will be a natural by-product of radical structural reform as we move from a standardised national system to a system of many small systems.” (Sir David Bell – Reflections on Reform 2012)
In order to survive this ‘messiness’ the system needs strong, competent strategic leaders who are proactive, pragmatic yet retain perspective.
We have to develop our own clear sense of where we want this profession to go and what we are seeking to achieve, so, finally, in the spirit of the Blueprint and the vision of a school-led, self-improving system, perhaps we now have to seize this opportunity to continue the process of developing this profession, mindful that the road ahead is likely to be ‘messy’.