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Podcast | Season 2 | Episode 3: School Business Leaders

Welcome listeners to the third episode of the season. For this episode we examine the status of the School Business Leader by recalling the amazing conversation between Stephen Morales and Stephen Rayner from last November's virtual show. In this snippet of their conversation, the full version of which we will soon release on our website, Morales and Rayner discuss the development of the SBL role and what common problems leaders face in their progression. 

Key topics covered will include:

  • What are the barriers to joined-up leadership and how can we seek to build parity of recognition within the SLT?
  • Overcoming challenges to succession such as Qualified Teacher Status and building pathways to progression

💡 Stephen Morales, Chief Executive, Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL)

💡 Stephen Rayner, Director of Teaching and Learning, Manchester Institute of Education,, University of Manchester 

🏫 This episode was aired as a recorded video at the Schools and Academies Show Online on the 19th of November 2020. 

Listen to the full episode below.


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The Schools & Academies Show makes its anticipated return online on the 27th - 30th April 2021. Join us for another opportunity to hear directly from leaders across government education, and engage with the community as we further explore key solutions that will tackle the current challenges impacting our sector.

Registration is completely free; you can secure your free pass here.


Austin Earl
Welcome back to the third episode of the second season of the Schools & Academies Show Podcast. We hope you're enjoying the season so far and we'd love to hear from you the listener about what subjects you want to know more of what challenges you might be facing or what questions we might be able to help crowdsource through the community and through the network of speakers and partners we have. So don't be afraid to get in touch by heading over to our website,

Austin Earl
Now before we get onto the episode, I wanted to let you know about two fantastic webinars which we're excited to be hosting on the 10th and the 11th of March. First up on the 10th of March, we're looking forward to hearing from our very own Alessandro Bilotta from the Schools & Academies Show team who'll be joined by Ian Romeo-Smith, who's Product Manager at Education Software Solutions. Malcolm Trobe, Consultant and Former Deputy General Secretary of ASCL and Stephen Morales, Chief Executive at ISBL, who incidentally we'll be hearing from In this episode, Stephen and co will be speaking about statutory financial compliance in Academies and Multi Academy Trusts. So do head over to our website to register for free for that webinar. Again, that's on the 10th of March at 11am. Second webinar is taking place the very next day at two o'clock in the afternoon. For this discussion, we're digging into literacy and its place in the new normal and we're delighted to be partnered with Reading Cloud for this. We're looking forward to a host of experts joining us including Christine Lockwood, from the UK Literacy Association, Adam Lancaster whose Senior Librarian, Head of Literacy and Designated Safeguarding Lead at Monk's Walk School. We also have Dawn Wood, who is Member Development Librarian at the School Library Association, and Tricia Adams, who's co founder of All Around Reading. Again, you can register for both webinars for free by heading over to our website.

Austin Earl
Now to get to the meat of the episode. This week, we are sounding the horn for the school business leader and evolving and oftentimes underserved rolled in reference to kind of dedicated learning and best practice. Business leaders have often been an unshaken force for operational continuity during the pandemic and with the return to schools that we know many of you have had many people's back for a while now. In addition to the new funding and operational pressures, not to mention any funding allocations announced very recently in the latest budget, SBL's have a great deal of work ahead of them. We're looking forward to so many different talks, discussions and interviews at the upcoming show next month. However, we can't wait until then and there was so much great content from November show which is still so relevant to the ongoing conversation. One such exchange between leaders in this space immediately comes to mind when considering the impact and the future of the SBL role and that is the fireside between Stephen Morales and Dr Stephen Rayner. Now Dr Rayner is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Manchester Institute of Education and he kicked off the discussion with Morales on the origins and evolutions of the SBL, as well as what the research is telling us about the current standing of this essential assortment of different roles and professions. Now we pick up on their conversation with Dr Rayner asked Morales to share his view on those with SBL backgrounds progressing to a trust leadership role without a teaching qualification.

Stephen Morales
Yeah, so I mean, I think there are a couple of things there. So I think you can develop it as a school leader, and many have, particularly through the legacy programmes that the National College offered, and they'll get used, they'll get you so far. They remain very valuable and the content has changed. The content, the curriculum has changed over the last few years and we were very keen to make sure that it was fit for purpose for a new for a new world. Nevertheless, the legacy programmes still have their have their place but they only get you to a certain point. My concern is, so I'm not I'm not so worried, if I'm honest, I'm not so worried about School Business Leaders that haven't had deep access to the to pedagogical leadership development. I think it's important for School Business Leaders, to understand the context to engage with people for performance data, and to understand the the challenges that particular context might present, so if there are high levels of deprivation, high levels of SEN, and kind of things it's really important that you understand that because there are the strategic decisions which will be based on serving that community most effectively. That aside, I don't subscribe to the idea that you've got to do, MPQ, or certainly MPQH, to be a senior leader. But I do think that you probably got if you're going to operate at a very senior level that you probably got to go beyond the MPQ level four level five qualification. Because you need that depth of knowledge, you need strategic leadership, knowledge and experience, you need to equip yourself with the emotional resilience, the emotional intelligence to lead to lead others. That doesn't, that doesn't happen by accident. So I'm a real advocate for School Business Leaders committing to a continuous professional development journey that might start with a level four qualification and might end up with a with an MBA or might indeed, end up at level five. I think it's probably unrealistic to expect to be an executive leader, if you're not prepared to commit to the, to the professional development journey. I'm not so convinced that that net professional development journey necessarily needs to lean as heavily into pedagogy as those that are on a journey from middle leader to assistant head, headteacher and so forth.

Stephen Morales
Interestingly, I talk about something called leadership convergence were particularly in trusts, where you've got a helicopter view across a group of schools. So you and you will have pedagogical leaders moving into those executive teams and you'll have business leaders moving into those executive teams, that almost the higher up you go throughout the organisation, the more you lean into each other and the more you should lean into it, to each other and there needs to be greater cross fertilisation of knowledge, in my opinion. So aspiring CEOs who come from a pedagogical background need to be learning leaning into School Business Leader, or school business leadership content, finance, procurement, HR, and School Business Leaders aspiring to be Chief Executives, likewise, need to lean heavily into pupil outcomes, your you know, understanding your demographic understanding population trends, understanding the interventions that might need to take place. So I hope that answers the question.

Dr Stephen Rayner
Yeah, I think that the whole area of development is interesting and just just thinking of what Joe wrote about within the teaching profession, specifically, there is as Joe put it, career progression through end job titles, and there are some pretty standard job titles within within teaching. Within the school business leadership, not only are there no job titles, specific ones, there's a range of job titles but not only that, I guess the two people could meet at a conference and one could say, what are you? I'm the School Business Manager, what do you I'm a School Business Manager as well. Actually their route into that post, their current salary, even if I dare mention it, their status within the organisation could differ hugely, because your label says School Business Manager, it can mean a clue different things for different people. Have I got that right?

Stephen Morales
Yeah, I'll go further than that. So so I can point to I could point to five practitioners, one School Business Manager, one school day, School Business Director, one's a Deputy CEO, one's a Vice Principal, one's a Chief Operating Officer on the Chief Finance Officer, they actually all do the same job. I mean, maybe overstating it, but broadly, they do that they do the same job. Actually, none of those titles are necessarily a proxy for the salary that they earn. So I know some very well paid School Business Managers with a very, very significant portfolio responsibility and high levels of accountability. Likewise, I know some people that called for the purposes of the Academy Financial Handbook, Chief Finance Officers, and then our pay a little more than administrator. So it's, you know, you're right. It's it's a very, it's a very confusing debate.

Dr Stephen Rayner
Yeah really interested, right at the start you mentioned the changing school structures in England and different organisational models of schools in England. So I was thinking of the example of the person. I won't come up with a job title yet. The person who is in charge of managing say the support staff and the services, the professional services, the finances in let's say, a smallish Academy Trust that's got six or seven primary schools in it. So they all respond to those schools and I'm sure that's, you know, it's a post and the type of person you'd be more familiar with that I would, but I'm thinking of the person who is doing that role, let's, let's say they're called the trust, Business Manager or, or whatever it is. But thinking of sort of person who would be able to do that job well, could have completely different routes into that post, they could have been the, if you like this, the Head Teachers, PA or Secretary of one of the schools, who's just got ended up in that role, deliberately well trained, or reluctantly, they could be someone with no teaching background, who's coming to manage that they could have been headhunted from the local authority. There's lots of that that have gone on getting the best finance people from local authorities to work in trusts. How do you begin to address the professional development needs? I wonder?

Stephen Morales
Well, if it's a really good question, we would point the sector to our professional standards, and encourage them to engage in the in the 40 years across the five disciplines, and then supporting leading support services. So that that would be that would be our recommendation. I think many, the majority of school business leaders are now engaging in that document. I think there's a bit of work to be done to get head teachers, governors and trustees to recognise the value of that document as a as a reference point, I think there is there is another kind of dimension to all of this in a deregulated environment and this is one of the downfalls of a direct deregulation environment. it's it's within, you know, it's very much within the gift of the of the Principal, Chief Executive, or the Chair of Governors all three, indeed, to decide what they want from the School Business Leader and sometimes what they want from the School Business Leader is not what they need. They sometimes they don't necessarily, they don't coincide and what I mean by that is, if you've got, you've got a very assertive highly qualified school business leader, that's looking very closely at the resources that are available and looking at the school improvement plan, looking at the curriculum ambition, looking at sustainability. That individual could be quite challenging in a conversation around whether or not a particular approach is sustainable and I suspect that it's convenient, in some cases, not to have such an assertive individual in place.

Stephen Morales
I can understand, for good reason. I mean, I think the spirit of the spirit of of trying to do the best for the children that you're serving, who would argue with that. There is a there is an argument to say you only look one year ahead. You could you could find yourself in a very difficult position in year two and year three, which will not serve the community well. So it's about that, that longer term view, it's about risk management. It's about it's about resource allocation and of course, I mean, everybody wants more money in the education system, and we continue to lobby hard for more money into the education system. But we also have got to deal with hearing now. So we you know, there's a funding envelope, we get an allocation, how do we do the best with that allocation that we can how do we optimise the resources available to us? That's a conversation that not everybody's prepared to have.

Dr Stephen Rayner
Yes I'm really glad you mentioned school governance. You mentioned the Chair of Governors there, because that whole area of governance, I think, particularly interests me and the role of the School Business Leader. The reason I raised this is that looking at the contributions for our specialists, you there's a there's there's quite a lot of expressed, for example, in in your own opinion piece in my interview with Matthew Clements-Wheeler, in Joe Marchent's, and Liz Woods, articles as well. Concern about what's most strongly expressed by Joe was entrenched cultural bias against School Business Leadership. Now, thinking back at my experiences as a School Governor, I've been a Governor in local authority schools, academies, I've had various roles teacher, staff, Governor, you know, Academy Trust. I have never known in all of that time and in all of those different states. durations, I have never known any sign of any disrespect for the work that is being done by the school business leaders under whatever title that their their contributions have always been regarded, not just respected, but regarded as absolutely essential to the role of governments. I'm tempted to say whatever the teachers thought of it, you know, because it has been a distinctive contribution to do, we, as Governors cannot make our decisions unless we know about the financial implications about the implications for staff for for support staff, as well as teaching staff, for the learning environment for health and safety, and so on. So I've seen none of that entrenched cultural bias as part of the governance process. I just wondered whether it's possible to overstate that or whether that really is a thing.

Stephen Morales
I think that's fair. So I would concur with with your with your, your opinion, and in my career, and certainly working as an Academy Ambassador, and as a Trustee of a primary school and my involvement as a Practitioner, with with Board of Governors and subcommittees, I've never received anything other than, you know, absolute professional respect and a deep interest in what I'm saying, likewise, Trustee colleagues are very interested in what the financial lead has to say, because, you know, it's so important to the to the welfare of school, I think, I think that that that cultural bias, if it exists, is probably fairly low level, I think it's more about what happens outside of the boardroom than it then in the boardroom. So it's the conversations that take place before the meeting takes place, if you like, it's the, it's the positioning, that takes place within the SLT in advance of any board meeting. So it you know, using the example that I gave earlier, if Faculty Heads, the Headteachers, Deputy Head have a real ambition to deliver a particular type of curriculum, and there isn't money to do so. The last thing they want is, is the School Business Leader saying governing body trustee, there are hidden risks associated with trying to deliver this, or creating some kind of dashboard that's got red number flashing everywhere, if we go down that route. So in some instances, it's about if you like, and this is, you know, this isn't unique to schools. I mean, this, I think this will happen in the boardroom in the commercial world as well, a bit of manipulating of the position in advance of the meeting. But in some cases, that's that's where I was referring to this concern about how, how assertive and how technically strong, do you want your school business leader, if they're going to present those challenges to governing bodies. So in that's the issue, because, and this is where it becomes really important to not lose focus and their focus always has to be pupil outcomes, the welfare of the learning community, and so forth. If you ask a School Business Leader, to identify savings to make the budget balance, they'll do it. And they can do it. But the cost of doing so might mean, you know, it might it may mean it may mean a subject, which isn't profitable, inverted commas, so we'll cut it out of the curriculum, so that the budget balance, just because you know, the when children decide on their on their options, it's not a particularly popular subject. It's not that it's not an important subject, it's not a popular one. So you know, that the numbers don't stack up. So it's really important that's why, you know, the integrated approach, the joined up leadership approach is so important, where you're having the conversation about resources that are available, curriculum ambition, and I think there needs to be some some red lines in terms of that curriculum, ambition, I think, you know, pedagogical leaders need to be very firm on that. And then there needs to be a risk assessment of that, you know, whether or not it's it's, it's affordable and sustainable. Then I think it is the role of governing bodies and trustees to almost mediate, facilitate that conversation between those looking at resources and those wanting to deliver on finance. And if you bring everybody to the table and have a very grown up conversation and understand where the tensions are, and prioritise accordingly, I bet you've got half a chance.

Austin Earl
Now if you enjoyed that conversation, we will be able to share the full episode with you on the website in the coming days. So do keep an eye out for that. If you subscribe to our updates, you get first dibs. For those who are not yet signed up, do head over to the very same website, to subscribe. In addition to our webinars and podcasts, we also keep you up to date with what's going on with the show. Updates such as the addition of a keynote address on the morning of the 30th of April by Interim Cheif Regulator of Ofqual Simon Lebus. Or other programme highlights such as the discussion on defining lost learning with Frazer Westmorland, Headteacher at Mundella Primary School in Kent, and Sir Iain Hall, who's the CEO at the Great Schools Trust, there are so, so many more new speakers and sessions on the website. So please do head over and of course, we're always looking to tell more practitioner stories. So if you fancy yourself a speaker, it's never been easier with virtual events. Get in touch, we'd love to hear from you. That's the end of the episode. So until next time, keep safe and we'll see you soon.