Having completed a Business Studies degree at Oxford Brookes Uni in 1998, where school business management wasn’t even raised as a career option, I had roles in HR and IT, before starting a family. I resigned from my IT training centre manager role to be a stay at home Mum. However, a family friend, who was a Trustee at a mixed independent primary school in a nearby Town, recommended me to the Bursar to help in the office in 2002. Unfortunately, the school closed in Summer 2003, with the Bursar and I left behind to close the school, redistribute the resources and sell the assets at an auction. The school had been a boarding school, so had many beds and wardrobes, plus all the school and kitchen equipment to dispose of, however we could. It was a very sobering experience, an empty school in Term 7 at least retains hope for the new term starting in September. An empty school, which you know is going to be sold for housing, takes on a sad, neglected and at times spooky atmosphere. I never want to repeat that experience, however it gave me an insight into school administration, and I liked it.

Also, at this time with two sons under 2, I was Secretary of my village’s society and spent a disproportionate amount of time on its projects. My husband pointed out that I might as well get a job and be paid. So, I became Clerk to the Governors at the village primary school (I can see its office window from my bedroom!). When the Bursar wanted to reduce her hours and not work on Fridays, I interviewed for the role of Receptionist/Office Admin for one day a week and was soon working closely with the Deputy Head on how to track assessment data using excel. The model we created was appreciated by other schools and so I spent a couple of days a week in different primary schools doing their assessment data tracking for them. It was interesting to see how different primary schools were trying to achieve pretty much the same thing, but in different ways. Then staff changes in the office meant I was able to increase my hours and this worked well as my two sons were by this time at school. 

By 2009 I was ready to move out of my comfort zone and to a new primary school as a full time Primary School Administrator, term time only in another local primary school. I also became involved with the local Bursars and Business Managers Network (B&BM). Within the first year I had started my Certificate of School Business Management, then became Bursar. In 2012 I completed my Diploma of School Business Management and became an SBM. I thought this was the best thing ever and then in 2014, the lovely Headteacher, announced his early retirement and the thought of not working for him, filled me with so much sadness and made me consider my own career options. I successfully applied for the SBM role at St Anne’s CEVA Primary School, another local primary school, which was in the process of becoming the county’s first dual campus primary school. Thrown in at the deep end of a new project build was incredibly exciting and I learnt so much, I still now talk about “when I build my next school” as I really would love the experience again. I joined NASBM now known as Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) and encouraged by my fabulous new Headteacher started an SBM twitter account.

I started my Advanced Diploma of School Business Management qualification in 2016, and this exposed me to another level of School Business Management, more strategic than ever before and more challenging. Other students on the course included Maggie Duncan and Sally Boaden to name but two recognisable faces from #SBMTwitter. In Summer 2017, I led the transformation of the local B&BM network to an ISBL regional group called Somerset School Business Leaders. It was through a tweet that Maggie posted about applying for ISBL Fellowship that I thought I might give it a go and successfully became an ISBL Fellow in Autumn 2017. Being an ISBL Fellow led to the opportunity to become an SRMA, which I do for Cotswold Beacon Academy Trust, which I became aware about because of Emma Gray aka @WorkingSBM on #SBMTwitter.

In March 2018, I found my blogging voice and started “Waffles of a School Business Manager”, this led to being asked to write for other publications about education, included FundEd. By April 2018, St Anne’s had become an Academy and joined The Priory Learning Trust. I really enjoyed the challenge of aligning practice across the Trust and in February 2019 became the part time Deputy Chief Operations Officer (Primary) for the Trust two days a week and SBL for St Anne’s three days a week. This was incredibly challenging to combine the two full on roles and thankfully by October 2019 I had successfully interviewed for the role of Deputy COO full time across the Trust and started this role in January 2020. We currently have three secondaries, three primaries, one TTO pre-school and one AYR Nursery in the Trust. I love being involved in the operations across these entities and supporting the good work of the Operations Managers. I’ve just uploaded the last of my reflective activities for my CIPFA Level 7 Certificate in School Financial and Operational Leadership which I started Autumn 2019 and in June 2020 successfully completed my IOSH for School Business Professionals. CPD, whether informal or formal never stops, although I would quite like a year or two off from studying whilst working full time.

So, the quick answer to the question how did you get into school business management? was Pru, our family friend, but the long answer is lots of people – Pru, Jane, Janet, Harry, Lisa, Martin, who believed in me and encouraged me to keep progressing and developing my career over the last 18 years. Special thanks must go to my hubby Tony and boys Ewan and Lewis who have put up with all the weekends of home learning over the years, I know you guys were as pleased as I was when I became Deputy COO – thank you.

Helen Burge

Advisory Panel member

One thought on “How I got into School Business Leadership by Helen Burge

  1. What determination has been shown whilst remaining a sterling family member, friend and colleague. What a woman 😊🌈


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