Interview: Stephen Morales - 16th July 2014

Stephen Morales, Executive Director of NASBM, spoke briefly at the LABSM Summer Ball about the value of local groups in influencing education and asked what we want to see. We asked him to tell us more.
Let's start with your background: what made you get involved with NASBM?

Back in 2006 I was working as the Finance Director in an International School in Spain. I was keen to ensure I kept up to date professionally so embarked on the Post Grad Certificate in Education Management run by NASBM in conjunction with Leicester University. This was the start of my relationship with NASBM. I went on to work with NASBM on the development of the SBM Competency Framework, spoke at various conferences and became Business Manager of the year in 2009. I then served a two-year term as a Trustee.

You spoke only briefly at the Summer Ball but your passion was obvious: where does that come from?

A belief that we can make a much more significant difference to the sector. I think as a profession we have added value to schools in terms of compliance but I'd like to see us engage more substantively in leading collaboration, income generation and indeed making a contribution to the development and implementation of education policy. There is a lot we can do at a local level starting with Schools Forum and perhaps leading on school-to-school collaboration.

We spoke about how you are trying to support as many local groups as possible; what do you think are the benefits of groups like LASBM?

Local groups provide a level of peer-to-peer support that we could not hope to replicate from the centre. Additionally, regional groups and their committees are uniquely placed to appreciate local challenges and opportunities.

Our job at a national level is to provide a voice for the profession on the national stage, to identify and share good practice across the regions, and to ensure that there are appropriate qualifications and professional development opportunities to maintain and enhance the skills and standing of the profession.

You said that local groups are conduits for getting a message to the decision-makers in education. How would they go about this?

NASBM should be the conduit for getting local concerns and messages through to government. Ministers are reluctant to act on anecdotal statements and will always ask for evidence. If groups of schools provide live examples of how policy has affected or will affect them then ministers and their advisors are more likely to listen. Regional groups should play a pivotal role in collating responses from their members and then use NASBM’s national influence to take these concerns to government.

What do you think are the key issues in education right now?

There are many and high levels of uncertainty as we approach an election year. Those that will have a significant impact on our profession include:

Funding Reform – a possible U-turn on National Funding Formula if there is a change of government and an almost certain acceleration of NFF if the Coalition is returned to power. What is clear is that schools will be managing with reduced allocations and consequently they will need to either make difficult decisions over expenditure or develop innovative and creative approaches to income generation.

Governance – there is an inevitable spotlight on governance as a consequence of recent events. However, Ofsted has been concerned about the standard of governance within state schools for some time now. I believe school business managers can play a more pivotal role in ensuring greater transparency with decision-making and help with the presentation of important progress and financial data to governors and other stakeholders.

School improvement – the extent to which school business managers can contribute to wider school improvement depends entirely on their level of engagement/involvement in the school leadership team. I would argue that any school that excludes its school business manager from leadership team meetings risks omitting a critical dimension of a school’s operation and subsequently may miss opportunities to drive forward school improvement.

(Stephen also talked about academisation, financial assurance, professional competency, capacity, collaboration and schools' estate but we didn't have enough room for it all here!)

What do you think local groups can influence?

School business managers can certainly take a lead role in collaboration and exploiting opportunities for ensuring best value and the efficient use of resources. SBMs should challenge head teachers and their governors to ensure they have a significant role on the school leadership team and contribute to wider school improvement. School business managers generally own the capital bid-writing process and sharing best practice and successful case studies amongst local colleagues is very powerful.

School business managers have a responsibility for their own professional development. It is important that they use their own networks to compare their current skills, competencies and qualifications. In an ever-changing education landscape, standing still professionally is not an option and the future credibility of the SBM profession rests in highly competent, well qualified and authoritative practitioners.

NASBM is working closely with the National College, awarding organisations, universities and providers to ensure the future content of SBM qualifications is fit for purpose and the qualifications valued by all education stakeholders.

Do you know of any other groups that have already had an influence?

There are a number of school business managers and finance directors who represent the sector on the EFA Academies Financial Assurance Steering Group. They have been instrumental in shaping the new Academies Financial Handbook, the Accounts Direction and many of the financial returns. This is an example of the profession contributing significantly to the development of policies and procedures that ultimately SBMs will have to manage.

At the Summer Ball you asked what the guests would like to see in education and encouraged them to speak up, so, finally, what would you like to say to our members?

Look beyond the day job – engage in whole school life, insist on being a member of the SLT, go to School Forum meetings, challenge collectively if things don't look right, and engage in government consultations. Be confident and speak authoritatively to your SLT peers.

Help us to develop greater national credibility by sharing best practice through case studies. Support your regional group and be a member of your national professional body.

Finally, believe passionately in what you do!