Frustrated by some social media comments about SRMAs

IN the last 24 hours, twitter has been alive with head-in-hands memes and GIFs of people rolling their eyes. Why? Because the DfE have confirmed their intention to spend a relatively small amount of money deploying a growing group of specialist advisors into schools facing financial difficulty.

A number of leading commentators have suggested that they could do better themselves, that they could advise struggling schools, that the money would be better spent if given directly to schools. Whilst the former might be true, the latter would only amout to £95 per school – hardly a king’s ransom.

Many people on social media have followed the cheap shots fired by some education journalists, asserting that the Department is about to unleash an army of bureaucrats to promote low cost pens and photocopier deals in what amounts to a classic example of throwing good money after bad.

I disagree.

The idea is a simple one – recruit a pool of suitably experienced school leaders (from a variety of school leadership backgrounds including SBLs, HTs, CEOs and trustees), accredit them through a standardised assessment process and send them into schools which the department feel are most in need of assistance and advice to get their financial affairs in order.

This group, known rather unattractively as school resource management advisors (SRMAs), will be drawn from the sector rather than imposed on us from outside as has been the case with some previous management initiatives. Given the scale of the cummulative five year deficits being forecast in some instances, the £2.3m cost will be recouped when the targeted schools and trusts begin to impliment actions to tackle staffing ratios or procurement practices that have been too long deferred.

For once the DfE is executing a project in the way most of us in the education sector have asked; coming up with an idea, testing the approach on a small scale before transparently recruiting providers from within the system for a wider scale implimentation via a transparent public tender process.

What frustrates me is how quickly teachers, heads and high profile social media commentators have rushed to rubbish the idea. With tweets and memes, the possibility that considered advice by my peers from within the sector might actually be able to help has been summarily dismissed. This is disappointing but not surprising.

Many school business professionals remain tolerated at the leadership table rather then welcomed as experienced fellow professionals who care deeply about the fate of our our own organisations and the viability of the whole state sector. Yesterday’s outpouring of scorn and derision was very predictable.

However a sense of responsibility for the wider system is not the sole preserve of heads or teachers. My peers and I feel it too. We don’t want to see any school or trust fail – as those failures impact on the lives of the pupils and the professionals in them as well as on the wider communities they serve. We want to help.

This does not mean descending upon schools dispensing trite advice; simply recommending cheaper copiers or claiming that cutting the curriculum is an easy solution. We want to bring our skills and experience to these difficult conversation, to make use of our deep understanding of the very real pressures other school leaders face to bear on the situation and to discuss what options might bring about a balanced budget whilst minimsing the damage to the organisation’s mission/vision that cutbacks inevitably bring.

Whether this support and advice is through the SRMA programme, via existing arrangements for school to school support through Teaching Schools and SLEs or by way of SBM networks, I don’t mind. But I do mind the implicit suggestion my peers and I have nothing to offer.

Therefore I will watch developments in the SRMA project with interest.