Informal professional development for school business leaders

School business leaders have choice in terms of where their role can take them. How can you positively influence your career, outside the formal qualification routes?

Author details

Stephanie Leigh has been a school business manager for more than 20 years, in four schools. She is now working towards a more freelance life, seeking interesting collaborative projects. She is passionate about improving the life chances of young...

Successive governments have changed the educational landscape over several decades. The most significant factors for a school business leader’s career would probably be the following.

  • Influence on trade unions on teacher activity, leading to a higher number of support staff.
  • Reductions in reductions in expenditure of public money has led to restrictive school budgets and a need for business expertise at a strategic level in schools.
  • Introduction of, and subsequent rise in, numbers of academies and trusts.

Increasing knowledge without formal qualifications 

It is important for school business leaders to ensure that their skills and knowledge are fresh and current. These are just some of the reasons why.

  1. Using out of date knowledge in areas like finance, HR, health and safety and procurement is risky and could lead to a worst case scenario of litigation.
  2. Strategic planning is only effective if all the current facts are known.
  3. If applying for a new role, applicants will need to demonstrate up to date skills and knowledge at interview.
  4. Networking decreases the feeling of isolation.
  5. Keeping up to date on how other types of school work will make it easier for practitioners to move between schools.

Outside of formal training, there are three main development strategies that will hugely benefit school business leaders and keep practitioners up to date with current and best practice. Not only is this vital in terms of performance in a current role, but it will also better equip business leaders for promotion or to negotiate a new role.

1. Online information sources

There are a number of online information sources which are invaluable and easy to access from the desk. They provide up to date information and topical articles on a wide range of topics, current legislation and funding information and a range of downloadable templates.

Optimus Education is just one example of these! Others include Every and professional associations such as ASCL and ISBL.

2. Professional networking

The school business leader’s role can be an isolated one. Networking has many benefits beyond relieving feelings of loneliness.

  • If you’re new in post, contact the business leader in the closest school to yours and arrange a visit to their school. Reciprocate this. However experienced you are, having someone just down the road who can act as a kind of mentor is priceless.
  • Find out when local schools meet and make sure you always attend. Leading up to meetings, keep a note of things which crop up school that you would benefit from a discussion on. It won’t be long before you are able to help other colleagues new to their schools.
  • If there is no local meeting, set one up. Even if only a few colleagues turn up at the first one, keep going. It will grow.
  • Where there are topics which interest a number of colleagues, consider organising a speaker or coach to come in and split the cost between you.
  • Join a professional association such as ISBL or ASCL and use the online resources provided with membership. Attend regional and national conferences and reach out to as many colleagues as possible at these events.
  • It might seem old-fashioned but have printed business cards and always have some with you – you never know when you will meet an important contact!

3. Social media

There has been an upsurge of interest in networking through social media in recent years. There are two main players for networking online.


  • Members create a professional profile with key words which employers can use to find suitable candidates for vacancies. Equally, those seeking a change in role can hunt for job vacancies which match their qualifications and skill-set.
  • LinkedIn is also used for networking across industries. If you are interested in collaborating with a business leader in a particular type of school, you can use key words to find them.
  • If you or your school would benefit from collaborating with professionals outside the education sector, you can search for good matches.
  • With over 600 million members in more than 200 countries, the scope for international collaboration is almost endless.


  • Using various hashtags (e.g. #SBL, #SBLTwitter and #SBLConnect) it is possible to alert others to questions or news. Conversations take place which others can see and join in if they wish.
  • Put #SBLTwitterMap into the search-bar and gain sight of a map showing the location of SBLs throughout the UK, some of whom have signed up as ‘buddies’ to support others new to Twitter. Using the map, it’s possible to see where local colleagues are.
  • When you set up your profile, try and include SBL in the Twitter name – this makes it easier for colleagues to find and follow you. Say something about your role in your bio.
  • Following organisations (such as the DfE, ISBL, unions, suppliers and CPD providers) helps you to keep up to date on a whole range of issues.

Find more tips in the power of networking.

Moving on: how to make the change

Looking for a change in role or fresh challenge? The following suggestions will help in presenting yourself as a strong candidate to a prospective employer when you might not be an obvious fit. 

1. Specialising

  • To move to a role where the focus is on HR, finance, estates or procurement it’s likely you’ll need a qualification in the specific area. However, to show your experience, keep a CPD record as a working document and regularly update it with details of relevant projects. Show that desired outcomes have been met – this will be invaluable evidence in interview. 
  • Use local contacts and shadow a colleague in another school who already specialises. 
  • Use online resources (see above) for up to date guidance and legalisation.

2. Moving across school types

  • Transitioning between primary, secondary, special, independent and academy can be made easier by researching heavily before applying for a role.
  • Use online resources and networking opportunities to identify fundamental differences between school types.
  • Make sure you can speak confidently about these at interview and are able to articulate why you seek the change.

3. Emerging roles

As more academies and free schools are created, the traditional roles can appear confusing. What does a chief finance officer do? What is the difference between a chief operating officer and a chief executive officer? 

  • Without following a formal training route, networking with colleagues already in these roles is vital in discovering how academies and trusts structure their staffing and how the responsibilities are delegated.
  • Use LinkedIn and professional job boards to read adverts, job profiles and person specifications to gain an understanding of roles and requirements.
  • Identify gaps in your skill-set and focus on them.

4. Moving between local authorities

  • If your role includes finance and/or HR it is possible that these functions are managed in a different way from one local authority to another. Research schools in the new LA before interview stage and find out who provides schools’ financial support and HR advice.
  • If possible, meet with colleagues in the new LA and have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how financial returns are completed. It could be radically different from what you are used to.
Last Updated: 
15 Oct 2019