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ISBL Q&A: Stephen Morales

We sat down with the CEO of ISBL, Stephen Morales for a Q&A to discuss the biggest topics in UK education. Take a look at what Stephen had to say in our latest blog.

How should school leaders view their SBP or finance team, and how can they work with them more effectively?

It depends what is meant by “school leaders”. SBPs themselves are school leaders. If the question is further qualified by referring to pedagogical leaders and other executive staff in a trust, then the answer is SBPs should be treated with professional respect at all times and appreciated for the niche skills and experience they bring to the table. Other leaders should interact with them in the way they would any other senior member of staff.

What advice would you offer to SBPs who don’t feel involved in decision making by the SLT?

Ask for an explanation regarding your exclusion from senior leadership meetings and strategic conversations. Explain the additional value you can add by being in these meetings and point to broadly accepted sector best practice that encourages a culture of joined-up leadership where governance, business and pedagogy work with a culture of inclusivity as a central value. However, recognise that in a MAT structure central decision-making is likely to trump any local autonomy afforded to schools within the trust. So, unless you hold an executive position, your strategic decision-making influence across the trust will be limited.

Are SBPs getting the support and CPD they need in order to deliver optimal services for the education sector?

This is a very mixed picture. Although there are opportunities via the apprenticeship levy, this only covers very specific programmes. There has generally been a reduction in subsidised training for SBPs since the demise of the National College. However, there are probably now more development opportunities available to SBPs than ever before. As the profession has matured and the complexity of the role has increased, so has the breadth and depth of the training and development programmes. There are now short courses, programmes designed for new entrants to the profession, courses for well-established practitioners and new specialist pathways, and for those who wish to pursue more academic learning, there are postgraduate research-focused qualifications at degree and master’s levels.

Our recent workforce survey did, however, return results that demonstrate a correlation between a heavy workload and a reduced capacity to engage in CPD activity. The results also suggest that during the recent period of austerity SBPs have struggled to justify funding to support their own professional development. Why is this important and how can they get it? This at the core of our existence, our very raison d’être. We are here to help the school business leadership workforce be better skilled, better informed and better placed to support the education sector. We want practitioners to be better tomorrow than they are today. This will only happen where the conditions for meaningful development and learning are right. But there also needs to be an appetite from practitioners to continuously improve.

After seeing the results of ISBL’s workforce survey, is there an issue in attracting new talent to the School Business Profession?

Succession, recruitment and retention remains a challenge for the entire education workforce. The workforce survey shows that we are an ageing professional community and that we must now work hard on identifying new talent, creating a succession pipeline and making the SBP role an attractive career option for young people or those contemplating a career change.

How do you see a ‘harder’ National Funding Formula affecting schools across the country?

There is only soft or hard. A hard formula forces the hand of local authorities who will have a lot less latitude to move funding between the funding blocks and should provide schools with more certainty over their allocations.

Should all MATs consider pooling their General Annual Grant? What considerations should be made if they go down this route?

I’m not prepared to advocate for or against GAG pooling. It is a matter for trusts to decide and part of the autonomy afforded to multi-academy trusts through their funding agreement.

I would, however, comment that if resources are pooled in a spirit of trust and the approach is designed to optimise the resources available to front-line teaching and learning, you can see the benefits of centralising some functions, aggregating effort and enjoying the benefits of economies of scale. Key to the success of such is full transparency. If resources are to be pooled, a clear mechanism for calculating central costs and delegating funds to local schools needs to be well understood and developed in consultation with key stakeholders (local headteacher, local governing body, faculty heads, etc.).

What issue are you most concerned about in the next 12 months?

A lack of policy clarity and the extent of other domestic and global challenges might mean ministers put less energy into creating a clear vision and showing real leadership in setting the direction for education policy for the duration of this parliament. We need clarity on funding, on academisation, on SEN provision and on the Ofsted framework, to name but a few key areas.

What opportunity or change in the sector excites you most?

The removal of any limitations on what can be achieved by individual practitioners and the extent to which a highly skilled, motivated and engaged SBP workforce can help transform our education system.

What can our visitors expect to hear from Stephen Morales and ISBL at the Schools & Academies Show in London?

  • Lots of discussion on the key issues
  • Pleanaries from some of the sector’s most influential leaders
  • Opportunities to participate in the debate
  • A chance to view and test new technology and system innovations
  • Listen to us making the case for an increased profile for SBPs