October 2011


  • Stuck on U
    Don’t leave it to universities to woo young people. Schools and colleges can take their own steps to help their students make it through the doors of HE, despite rising fees and shrinking numbers of places, says Graeme Atherton. More
  • Held to account
    A project which began as a way to offer primary schools support with business management has evolved far beyond that. Kerry Brimfield describes the journey that has culminated in a secondary and multi-primary academy partnership. More
  • Guvnors
    As schools become more autonomous, the role of the governing body is assuming even greater significance. Emma Knights examines the skills and other attributes a governing body needs in order to maximise its effectiveness in a new era of self-determination. More
  • Maximum cloud coverage
    Cloud computing has the potential to revolutionise IT in education, making it cheaper to run, more responsive to students’ needs and environmentally-friendly into the bargain, argues Clive Bush. More
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A project which began as a way to offer primary schools support with business management has evolved far beyond that. Kerry Brimfield describes the journey that has culminated in a secondary and multi-primary academy partnership.

Held to account

System leadership is about enabling quality leadership to be spread between several schools. In education it is currently seen in more formal settings such as hard federations and the appointment of executive heads.

Our model is different: the business management team of a secondary school providing support to a group of five primaries. But although our focus may appear to be the business function of the organisations, at its heart is the passion to improve the life chances of everyone touched by our partnership schools.

Our project sprang from a 2007 report for the National College which examined the impact of business managers in schools. It showed that while most secondary schools had business managers this wasn’t the case in primary schools, meaning that primary headteachers and other senior leaders were still undertaking many administrative tasks at all levels.

The report recommended the creation of higher level business management posts – advanced business managers and school business directors – who would provide access to business management expertise to primary schools, thereby freeing up heads to focus more intently on teaching and learning. Another of the project aims was to make the headteacher role more attractive to middle managers by lightening the administrative load.

To test the concept the National College launched 24 pilot projects and my school, Dyson Perrins C of E Sports College in Malvern, was one of the first to sign up in April 2008. My title changed from school business manager to school business director and we also recruited an assistant business manager.

The aim was to develop a business support structure to enable us to share our expertise with six primary schools. Key objectives were to reduce the workload of the primary heads, create a career progression route for associate staff, increase efficiency for all schools involved, promote collaboration and raise standards.

An audit of needs in the schools clearly showed some common themes. FMSiS was a key one as it had just been rolled out to primaries when our project began. Others were income generation, Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliance and school travel plans. Recently our major focus has been the academy conversion process.

One of the biggest mistakes we could have made would have been to take secondary systems into the primary environment. We treat each school as unique with no expectations that what works well in one school can automatically be replicated in another. Inevitably, though, we have templates from which we can adjust, policies being the obvious example, and we can draw from our experiences across the phases.

Point of contact

The primary heads and governors wanted a flexible approach rather than, for example, one of the team being at their school every Monday.

A team of us work closely with the primary schools. The assistant business manager is ordinarily the first point of contact for the primary heads and administrators, by email or telephone. She is heavily involved in the facilities side of our service from coordinating meetings to raising funds for projects and representing the schools at project meetings.

One primary, for example, now has a dining room where hot meals are delivered which would not have been built if it were not for the assistant business manager finding the funds and being involved in the project from start to finish.

If a school has specific queries with day-to-day operation or training on the finance package, for example, they would contact our bursar or, if it’s about ICT infrastructure, our systems manager, who would deploy the appropriate technician.

I tend to deal with strategic finance, governance, legal and data.

Several benefits of the project have emerged, including the sharing of best practice across phases; tailor-made services to fit the needs of schools and individuals; and the availability of specialist knowledge and expertise.

There is also now a clear structure for progression for the associate staff who can move easily between primary and secondary.

The original project ran for 18 months and since then our collaboration has expanded to provide business services to a further three primary schools. What is on offer has grown considerably to include:

  • one-to-one finance system training and support
  • mentoring and coaching across schools
  • income generation/bid writing
  • project management
  • procurement

The success of the initial project and ongoing collaboration has largely been down to strong and open communication with a system which is flexible enough to meet the needs of the individual schools. From being reactive we are now proactively sharing information and best practice across all our partner schools and academies.

The collaboration has also had a significant impact on the wider community. For example, students from the secondary have helped with after-school provision at one of the primaries.

Primaries have used our sporting facilities during and after the school day and we have held competitive inter-schools sporting events for not only our partner schools but those in the wider community.

Academy status

In August 2011, Dyson Perrins and four primaries formed the Malvern  Academies Partnership (MAP), the first partnership of its kind nationally. Our focus is on raising standards in learning, while improving the life chances for all children in our partnership.

Through the experience of working collaboratively gained over the past four years, we were able to take the lead through the academy conversion process. We have jointly procured our legal support, payroll, HR and accountants, and we host the new finance software package to which all primaries have remote access and which has produced significant financial savings.

On the training front, we hosted the finance training at Dysons for our staff and the heads and administrators of the primaries. Other training sessions have been held centrally using external trainers, thereby reducing the cost to all schools significantly. We have also run one-to-one or small group training sessions for staff and governors, led by the needs of the individual schools.

We will be planning our schools’ calendars jointly this year to coordinate our inset days to share training and CPD opportunities. Under the new partnership CPD led by staff from all schools is increasing with the focus on the learning and teaching needs of the schools – for example, lower ability boys, coaching and project-based learning.

With the conversion to academy status I became director of finance and operations and am the company secretary for all the academies, building an even stronger relationship with their governors. As the academy partnership is so new, the heads and I meet every fortnight. The administrators were meeting on a half-termly basis but have asked for weekly sessions at the moment as the world of company financial reporting and so on is very new to them.

These can take the form of mini-training sessions, sharing of best practice or, probably more importantly, giving support to staff who could otherwise feel very isolated had they gone down the academy route on their own.

We are all working together to give us a firm foundation for the future of our collaboration.

  • Kerry Brimfield is director of finance and operations at Dyson Perrins C of E Academy.

Held to account