What are the challenges facing school business managers in 2021?

We’ve all had a tough year, but schools especially have been dealt an unenvious hand. They’ve
had to adapt to virtual learning with almost a moments notice. And although we’re all battling
through the third (and hopefully, final) lockdown, we’ve all learned as best we can to adapt in
these trying times.

As teachers went on rotas and juggled virtual learning between classrooms and home working, school business managers didn’t escape unscathed. With usual duties still calling, understanding multiple government policies and additional, crucial health and safety policies were added to an already full plate.

There’s no doubt that the global pandemic has impacted the year ahead for SBMs, so, what are the challenges facing you in 2021?

Lean budgets

Budget management always has and will always be, a large part of school business management, but with budgets already stretched before the pandemic, schools are struggling more than ever to find the money required to run an effective school. In December 2019, before the pandemic, 47% of SBMs stated ‘managing budgets’ was one of their top three challenges as they were “being asked to do more with less.”

Trying to meet the ever-changing demands COVID has put on the education system, is almost impossible on such a tight budget. And the effects of COVID could have a damaging long-term impact on schools.


Unbalanced work and personal life

A report published by The Key stated 41% of SBMs said the pandemic had a negative effect on their mental wellbeing. Stress and exhaustion have contributed to this with 28% of SBMs working more than 11 hours a week above their contractual hours.

With the vaccine rollout in full force, the latest government guidelines suggest English schools could re-open to all pupils from 8th March at the earliest. But at the moment, we’re still amidst another national lockdown, so this stress and exhaustion won’t disappear on its own. The lockdown has shone a light on mental wellbeing, so there’s no time like the present to address the structure of your day and find new, better ways of working to restore a work-life balance.


Suggested reading: How SBMs can better manage their workload


“The focus on teacher wellbeing, as usual, is top of the agenda, but it is rarely considered for non-teaching staff.”

School Business Manager

Primary School, London


Educational gaps

Perhaps the most obvious challenge facing SBMs in 2021 is the increasing educational gap. According to a recent BBC article, education policy experts say some pupils who have missed out on significant learning time should be allowed to repeat the year. The educational gaps are prominent, with pupils largely seeing out the end of the previous school year (March – July) in lockdown with home learning and then returning to school in September, only to be disrupted by bouts of self-isolation. And now, they’re once again back to home learning.

And it’s not a level playing field for all pupils, with poorer families suffering more – 58% of primary school students from the least well-off families do not have access to their own study space.

Use our free savings calculator to see how much your school could save with a school communication app.