The school environment is extremely stressful at the moment. Do you feel stressed and anxious at times where this has affected your confidence in your ability to do your job? If so, don’t be downhearted. It’s a fairly common occurrence and most SBL’s have felt this way at some point in their careers.

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Firstly, lets talk about overwhelm. I see social media posts every day from other SBL’s and school leaders managing anxious teams as well as pupil lists, Census, staff absence and delivering the curriculum, whilst still looking for the pot of gold that will fund it all.

To-do lists getting longer, more emails to deal with, changing government guidance and endless phone calls lead to everything feeling bigger and scarier. Things feel less manageable than they really are. Overwhelm can affect our ability to think and act rationally too.

Throw in the ever changing schools guidance, less than positive parent feedback or just being at the cliff face every day, then having too much to do, makes us feel less efficient and lacking in confidence. I don’t have all the answers but in a bid to improve things personally, I am sharing some of the things that I have tried.

Take a ‘Liberty Hour’ – This hour of freedom is time out of your day just for you. Now, I do not mean your lunch break (if you manage to take one!) but a sacred hour that contributes to your professional development or networking. It could be going for a walk around the school with your caretaker. Take in the site and discuss any upcoming issues. This will create balance and the walk will rejuvenate your mind and body too! I once nearly declined a one hour local SBM online meeting, as I honestly could not bear the thought of talking about more school stuff in the stressed state I was in, let alone with the camera on me. The hour online, laughing and chatting about all school successes and fails that we have each experienced, helped me to reassess my feelings and calmed my mind.

Time Management – this is not a quest to control how SBL’s should manage their time. I cannot tell you the best way to do this, as I would need to analyse your time, your day and what you have left and we don’t have time for that! I keep a simple diary, day to view (more control) write 5 tasks in it, hopefully tick them off at the end of the day, but also schedule in a final 15 minutes to plan tomorrow’s five tasks. This seems to work for me.

Play to your strengths – know what you are good at and expose yourself to these opportunities. I am rubbish at diffusing conflict in work teams but very good at empowering staff to reach their full potential. So I do that.

Improve your weaknesses – know and appreciate what these are and put a plan in place to improve them over time.

When in school, be in charge of your thoughts at all times. What is a thought? It is just a question that you have asked yourself and the thought is your answer. If you are thinking negative thoughts, you are probably asking a negative question. Change the questions to be more positive.

Change the way you think. Do you let the words of others affect you? Do you mind what they think of you? Remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. It’s not what they say to you that’s the problem it’s what you say to yourself after they have stopped talking that’s the problem. I learned this one the hard way.

Self confidence as an SBL should be developed over time. In conclusion, if there is one thing that has the power to increase self confidence, it’s the feeling of accomplishment and the momentum it brings. Don’t forget the small things like being a listening ear to a distressed staff member, moving mountain and earth to get that help to a hungry family or having that epic moment in the governing body meeting when you secretly realise you REMEMBERED the dietary requirements of EVERY governor this time. You’ve got this. Exude confidence and smile.

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ICFP and Financial Sustainability – An algebra pop quiz?

Surprisingly in this field, I often meet people who do not really love numbers and don’t really like discussing them. In our school role, it is impossible to go through a term without using spreadsheets and data. Just when you thought this was enough, metrics and management ratios are the new buzz words. They come in the form of the Integrated Curriculum and Financial Planning (ICFP)

So, what is it?
The education sector continues to be affected by shrinking budgets and rising costs. The focus on financial efficiency and sustainability is becoming more and more pressing.

It is a diagnostic tool that uses numerical measures to identify key issues within your school’s resource use and generates a starting point for discussion. When one has managed to calculate and interpret the data it is then possible to reconcile staffing and curriculum plans with what can be delivered in a balanced budget, write a strategic plan for 3 to 5 years, set regular reviews and update the plan as things change. This is enough to send anyone with maths anxiety into a panic.

The DFE already made the use of this method a condition of grant funding for the MAT development and Improvement Fund. More recently, funded training is being rolled out to maintained primary and secondary schools and delivered by the ISBL.
What do you do then, if you are the person at school in charge of preparing, analysing, planning and reconciling this data?
You start with a detailed three year budget plan. This isn’t so bad. A breakdown of staffing including leadership. Simple enough. Curriculum Plan and relevant context. A piece of cake. You then have a choice of 12 key diagnostic staffing metrics. The DFE website’s ICFP glossary of terms and workbook (Excel spreadsheet) is the holy grail for a School Leadership Team.

Schools will be able to spot areas out of kilter and have a greater understanding of how resources are deployed. It’s main goal is for maximising resources in order to provide the best education for children.
The key point is that the data out is as only as good as the data you put in. So change your door sign to busy, re-stock the biscuits and get number crunching! (definition: mathematical work performed by people or computers with large amounts of information or data)

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The ‘Quiet Crisis’ of Less Funding vs Rising Costs

You will recall in the press a few years ago that Headteachers were calling for a funding review because schools believed their budgets were untenable by 2019/20.  Like other schools, most have faced these ever increasing pressures and rising costs.  Although the phrase ‘perfect storm’ gets over-used, it is perhaps an appropriate way to describe the pay and inflation; rising pension and National Insurance costs, the National Living Wage,  the introduction of the apprentice levy, cuts in educational services and grants and of course reductions in pupil numbers. 

The gradual erosion of support from Local Authorities also meant that schools provide or buy in services that would have once been delivered by the council.  This is all before we get to pressures of rising utility costs and decaying infrastructure (despite the government offering 216m in 2017 to refurbish school buildings) Schools have ‘made ends meet’ by reducing support staff hours, reducing investment in equipment and by generating private income.

The National Funding Formula was supposed to even out discrepancies in school funding and this did give schools some gains but they also lost some.  Schools may find that they are facing deficits next year. The demand and expectation – the need to deliver an effective world class education – has never been greater.  Covid 19 has already had an impact on schools income and expenditure, with some schools reporting that the Covid-19 claim to the DFE for other category costs not being covered. Schools are having to make some extremely difficult financial decisions. 

When the usually mild-mannered, amenable Business Leader says ‘this is not sustainable’, then it is time for the school to review it’s outgoings. If you are feeling that your school finances are costing you a good night’s sleep and you are worried about staffing levels or setting a balanced budget, please get in touch. It also helps to have an open and honest discussion that your SLT and Governing Body should be privy too.

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No Glass Ceiling!

Who says you can’t move successfully from one job role to a more senior one, or get that promotion or pay rise?  A glass ceiling is a metaphor for the hard to see informal barriers that keep women from achieving these things. The barriers to advancement can be personal or cultural and can be damaging to a woman’s career aspirations and opportunities.

In the 1980’s, ‘the glass ceiling’ represented an idea that women were hitting a limit of how far they could go in a company and with their pay. Another idea is that glass breaks and that this limiting belief has held many truly capable women from reaching their full potential at work!

When I am not writing blogs about work and careers, I work as an experienced Business Director in the Education sector. As a hiring manager, I have interviewed hundreds of candidates in the public and private sector and there is one similarity in interviews that I have seen so many times. Negotiation is something that people fear doing as they worry that it will decrease their chance of landing the job or promotion. There is something to consider as I write this. The reality is a lot of business owners will be paying staff out of their reserves right now. These are not easy times. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ask for non-monetary benefits like a laptop, CPD or flexible working along with a six month salary review.

How many times have you thought you need more education, experience or more years in the job before you feel at ease asking for more money or for the promotion?  You do need experience and to know what you are talking about, but you also need to challenge your brain when it says you are just ‘winging it.’  Let people give you the positive feedback when it is due and take it! This kind of feedback will help you to embrace the fact that you are good at your job and could be ready for the next step in your career.   You can be proud that you made a difference and added value at work today, even if it it was a really small thing. 

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ask for non-monetary benefits like a laptop, CPD or flexible working along with a six month salary review.

Do Not Underestimate Your Talents

We work hard! We are very good at keeping things from falling apart and meeting deadlines at work. We also tend to under-estimate our contribution. Start drawing attention to your professional strengths. Start thinking about the bigger picture and focus less on the minor tasks. Connect your thinking to something that will help your employer further. Acquire new skills and combine them with the ones you already possess. This will help you feel so much more confident. 

Do Not Strive For Absolute Perfection

The very thought of a possible failure scares us a great deal. We are risk-averse and care about consequences of incorrect decisions. If we want to shatter the glass ceiling, we need to realise that no-one expects us to be perfect. Therefore, we should leave the fear behind and assert ourselves in the workplace. If you mess up, then transform it into a valuable learning experience. 

Do Be True to Your Values and Principles

The decisions you make may not be popular, but you have to make the decision you feel is right and best for you. Ask yourself: Do my actions match the words I speak?

Do Accept You Will Never Have All The Answers

It doesn’t make sense to go for a job that you feel you will excel at. Instead, go for the job that will take you out of your comfort zone.  It is this job that will help you grow the most.

Do Ignore The Pedestal

Junior staff are inclined to put senior staff on a pedestal. No-one knows everything and there are many times that a senior leader requires the expertise of a junior staff member. It is a two way street.

In Conclusion

If you are thinking about making the move or having a meeting with your boss about a promotion, contact your professional counterparts in the industry to find out as much as you can about what working in the new role would involve. By networking and seeking counsel from mentors and experts, you will have a brilliant advantage.  Additionally, there will come a time when you are offering your expertise to others. 

Go through the job description and do a skills audit to note any gaps you may have. In some cases, you can easily fill those gaps before applying, just by searching online or watching ‘how to’ videos online.  Do not go to the interview feeling like the underdog. Sell yourself and demonstrate that you can make the leap and do the job well.  Your determination will pay off if you can show the interviewers your confidence. This will make you ready to soar through the imaginary glass ceiling.