The Age of the School Business Manager

We’ve been working with the lovely people at Every (formerly TES Foundation) to help them to communicate and promote their new name. Every is a web based management system developed especially for school business managers (SBMs), head teachers, site managers and those with a similar role.

To mark their relaunch we helped Every to commission new research. Entitled The Age of the School Business Manager it highlights how essential the SBM role is to schools today. Increasingly focused on helping to make tight budgets stretch further SBMs are the engine room for any school.

Highlights from the research

The SBM role has become more pressured in the past five years. Nine out of ten (95%) respondents report they’d taken on more responsibility. Over three quarters also report that the role had become more complicated and they need to deal with more paperwork, contracts and incidents.

Coping with this pressure was a key reason for SBMs to use technology and almost nine out of ten (89%) reported that management software programmes were very important in making their role possible.

SBMs are now more integrated into the senior leadership team. This is significant because in many instances the SBM is the first non-teaching position to be appointed. However, nearly one in five (19%) are still not part of the senior team.

Senior leadership teams have changed their attitudes around the role. Respondents to the research report found that two years ago less then half (46%) believed the SBM role was perceived to be valuable or essential compared to 84% today.

The role is increasingly becoming front facing, in the sense of communicating with parents and stakeholders. This is a significant change and perhaps reflects the maturing understanding of the role as much as the evolution of school funding.

Many thanks to the Advisory Group who together helped to steer the research:

  • Bethan Cullen, Marketing Director, National Association of School Business Management
  • Val Andrew, Business Leadership Specialist, Association of School and College Leaders
  • Nicky Gillhespy, School Business Manager, Cheam Fields Primary School and SBM representative, National Association of Head Teachers National Executive
  • Chris Perry, Operations Manager, Secondary School
  • Mo Miller, Facilities Manager, Multi-Academy Trust
  • Russell Dalton, Finance and Business Director, Pershore High School

Finally thanks to FireDog Research who did a great job on gathering, analysing and reporting the research findings.

Using education PR to promote your presence at BETT

BETT 2015
BETT 2015 with thanks to

BETT is the biggest education technology show in the UK and one of the largest in the world. More than 40,000 people visit the show and hundreds of companies and organisations exhibit each year.

If you’re exhibiting at BETT in January 2016 you’re likely to be starting work on your plans for the show. But, whether your priority is generating new leads, closing sales, or building new partnerships, the big challenge at BETT is getting the right people to visit your stand.

Carefully targeted PR can help you to reach the right people, promote what you’re doing, demonstrate your expertise and reach beyond your existing contacts. And the good news is that it can be a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing.

But you need to start planning now if you want journalists and bloggers to write about what you’re doing at BETT.  Here are our top three tips.

1. Have a PR plan

It’s important that your plan for BETT isn’t just about the layout of your stand, the type of chairs, and how many leaflet holders you need. To secure PR and get the right people talking about you it’s essential you know whom you want to reach and what you want to tell them about.

It’s not enough to say, “Hey we’re here at stand 171, come and say hi”. Journalists and bloggers need to have something that’s new, timely and relevant to write about (check out this post for more on creating an education PR story).

There are lots of ways you can do this, here’s a few suggestions:

  • Launch a new product or service
  • Secure a slot as a BETT speaker or run your own seminar programme
  • Publish a research paper
  • Launch something that's free, e.g. an app or some resources

2. Get the right person to communicate your message

Most of the people interested in reading about BETT will be those planning to attend. And they’re more likely to take an interest and be engaged if they read about people similar to themselves. Here’s a lovely example, which was written by teacher James Holmes and published in the TES as part of our launch of QuickStart Computing.

Journalists and bloggers are also much more likely to be interested in your story if they can interview someone actually involved in education, or ask then to write something.

There are exceptions to the rule and your CEO or Director of Education may well be in demand, but we recommend not putting all your eggs in one basket.

3. Get the timing right

There are three main times to securing coverage for BETT. Be organised and take advantage of them all.

BETT preview publications

Most of the education sector press produce previews about BETT for their readers. These are published in December and January. Editors start to plan these in September and most copy is finalised by the end of October.

The education long leads such as Teach Secondary or Headteacher Update also need to hear about your story in time to publish it in January. So start speaking to them in early October.

A little later on articles for the professional practice section of TES and their blogs will be agreed by the end of Nov.

Post Christmas sell in

BETT 2016 takes place 20-23 Jan. That means there are just 12 working days after Christmas to speak to journalists about your story. We recommend thinking seriously about launching your story in the run up to BETT. This has two advantages:

  1. You can engage your target audience when they’re most likely to be planning their visit to BETT
  2. There is less competition from other exhibitors pitching their stories

As well as pitching your story find out if they’re planning on visiting BETT and send them an invitation to events you might be running.

During BETT

After all the planning you might feel you can just relax and rest once the show starts but there are still opportunities for spreading the word.

  • Share regularly throughout the show on social media platforms.
  • Devise something on your stand where people can have a go. Take photos and share to help create buzz.
  • Get involved with the events taking place: TeachMeet, panels, etc.
  • Be in touch with the journalists that are attending and meet them
  • Update the i2i press team and remind them of your plans
  • Be opportunistic and say hello if you spot a journalist or blogger

And finally…

Good luck with all your plans for BETT! Do get in touch if you want to discuss your ideas or just need some inspiration.

Creating a good education PR story

Creating a good education PR story
Launch of QuickStart Computing

Creating an education news story that will attract the attention of journalists, bloggers and tweeters can feel like an impossible task. But it’s actually about getting three things right.

 1. What is new?

Any education story needs to be something that’s genuinely new, something that’s not been reported previously.

There are thousands of possibilities, both large and small, but the story has to be new. Research that shows more parents are considering sending their children to independent schools, a new technology that makes it easy to create a customised school timetable for every child, or the launch of the first specialist university just for plumbers, all provide new information.  However, the second university for plumbers, children sitting in classrooms or parents taking their children to school are all old news.

2. Why now?

Journalists are pitched hundreds of education stories so to get cut through it’s essential a story is timely. For example, there’s no point pitching a story about brilliant exam results in September. Journalists write about exam results in August and that’s when your news about great results is most timely. Equally a story about how children forget what they’ve learnt during the summer holidays will be of interest in July but not in November.

Always ask yourself the question “Why is my news story important now rather than next month?

Why is it relevant?

Any journalist will know who their audience is. For many, online news means they can quickly see how their audience has reacted to an item. The media live and die by the number of people consuming their content so, understanding the audience a journalist wants to reach is essential to understand whether your news story is relevant to them.

Not all education news is relevant to every journalist that writes about education. National media correspondents need a story that has national relevance so a new resource, the launch of a competition or a technical story about assessment is unlikely to be of interest. Even within the education sector media stories need to be tailored to a particular sphere of interest whether that's the Times Higher Education and universities, the TES and schools, or SecEd and secondary schools.

A new and timely story should be able to secure interest but it's essential to understand which media will find it most relevant.

And finally

We’ve created a quick analysis of a story we created to promote QuickStart Computing, a CPD resource to support teachers with the computing curriculum.

What’s new?

QuickStart Computing was a brand new CPD resource produced by Computing At School.

Why now?

The computing curriculum had launched in Sept 2014.  Education journalists were interested in how the new curriculum was being tackled in schools. QuickStart Computing was created in response to research and feedback that teachers were struggling to teach the new curriculum. The launch of QuickStart coincided with BETT when education journalists regularly focus on aspects of technology in schools. These factors made our story timely.

Why is it relevant?

We created a number of different stories that could appeal to different journalists and media.

These included new research we commissioned on the attitudes of teachers and young people to computing, stories about why CPD support was needed for the new curriculum, comment from leading computing experts and case studies from teachers who could offer a classroom perspective.

Read more about the QuickStart campaign.

Ed tech to do list - extra

Following our last post on the ed tech to do list for the new government two things have changed. We actually got a new government much quicker than any of us expected (until that exit poll) and we now know that public funding is going to get tighter. We don't know what that means for education but it is hard to imagine it will lead to greater funding.

Josh Davidson, one of the founders of Night Zookeeper, got in touch to share his quick take on what it all means for ed tech.

"If I was leaving a note for the new govt it would simply say:  I'm afraid to tell you, there is worryingly little education technology in schools!"

Josh added: "It is a sad fact that we are currently selling more Night Zookeeper subscriptions to schools outside of the UK than within it. We need to simplify the procurement process schools here go through and do a better job at shining a spotlight on solutions that make a genuine, high value impact on a child's education. Ultimately, schools need more funding so that they can begin investing in the adoption of 21st Century learning technologies before the UK gets left behind."

We couldn't agree more!

The ed tech to do list for the incoming government

Although it’s likely to take a few days for anyone to form a government the ed tech sector certainly has a list as long as it’s arm for the incoming government.

Next week the Education Investor Summit takes place in London (we’re going to be live tweeting) and brings together all aspects of education business including the ed tech sector. Typically a government minister gives the keynote but clearly a week after the election was a little early this year. But what are the big priorities for ed tech? I caught up with some of the leading players to ask them about their top priorities.

Fix the broadband

“I frequently visit schools where the students and teachers are using their own bandwidth from their mobile phones to supplement systems in schools that can’t even support YouTube”, says Richard Taylor, serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He’s not alone in lamenting the poor infrastructure Maria Brosnen backer of Striver  also calls for urgent improvement: “I would welcome some Government meddling if it could ensure all schools have really good, reliable broadband.”

Finance for Series A ed tech fund

Charles Wiles is the CEO and co-founder of startup Zzish a dashboard that allows teachers to track student progress in real time. “It's possible to raise seed funding, but virtually impossible to raise Series A and so typically a start up will do the hard work of building a product, getting into one or two universities or perhaps 50 schools and then find themselves unable to raise the funds to scale up the sales and marketing.

“In the US there are several specialist EdTech funds such as the New Schools and Learn Capital venture funds.  In Europe there are none. I would suggest a minimum of a £50m specialist edtech fund for Series A investments and ideally a £100m fund. The presence of a specialist Series A fund would also encourage more seed investment in edtech as investors would know Series A funds are available for companies that do well.”

Greater research and development funding

“It may seem obvious but a lot of good ideas just never see the light of day”, says Maria Brosnen. Dan Sandhu CEO of Digital Assess and experienced tech entrepreneur agrees: “access to supportive research funding is always welcome.”

Prioritise educator involvement in edtech development

Lots of folk feel that a much stronger link is needed between edtech developers and the potential beneficiaries of edtech. Maria Brosnen’s latest school resource development is in partnership with a primary school teacher: “Engaging teachers to work in partnership with edtech means we can ensure a resource is right for teachers from its very inception.”   Charles Wiles is also considering this: “we’d like to build a site where teachers can sign up to get paid to test educational apps and educational app developers can pay to get their apps tested by teachers.”   But is can be hard to engage teachers as Richard Taylor found with his initiative ed-invent: “Teacher inspired ideas are very important but what we found was that putting educators at the heart of edtech was much harder than we expected.”

Be less risk averse

“If I had just one request to the new government it would be to encourage innovation,” says Dan Sandhu, “the UK education sector is inherently risk averse. This has meant there’s been no drive towards innovation within the sector. As a result they’ve ended up simply trying to improve on what has already been done, making tweaks rather than thinking outside the box.   “New approaches and technologies are already available to improve what and how we assess. The UK education technology industry is well-regarded in the global marketplace for such innovations, yet they are being adopted in countries such as Sweden, Singapore and the US much faster than in the UK."   Richard Taylor supports this and adds: “I’d like the government to set up a schools based edtech research programme along the lines of iZone in New York, that’s one of the most exciting public education development at the moment.”

Thanks very much to everyone that's helped with this list. Let’s hope in five years time we can ring the changes

Thoughts on creat_ED

creat_ed LOGO.3000pngAlthough I’ve run countless events and conferences in my time creat_ED was much more daunting, as it wasn’t for a client or an employer. Instead it was something I’d been personally inspired to do following the demise of Learning Without Frontiers, (low down here), and that meant that there was much more riding on it, not least the prospect of failing quite publicly!

The good news is that it was a remarkable success (phew). There were lots of reasons for this and hat tips to the amazing speakers, all of the participants and my partners in crime Eylan Ezekiel and Drew Buddie. But I think it was also about:

  • Combining the right people
  • Attention to the gaps between stuff
  • Creating constructive chaos

Getting the combination right

Everyone seemed truly inspired and excited by the combination of people at creat_ED – creatives, technologists and educationalists. This isn’t a mix that happens very often and it was genuinely valued.

Former head teacher Lizzie Overton said afterwards that she found the mix of people really important: “As an educator it’s hugely valuable to be exposed to the non-education world. The mix at creat_ED meant there was a randomness to whom you might meet it could be a musician, technologist or artist just as much as it could be a fellow educator.”

Creating gaps

It’s easy to think when you plan an event that it’s all about the speakers, the workshops and the agenda but creat_ED reminded me that it’s the gaps between scheduled elements that are just as important as the official programme.

Creat_ED had a lot of gaps for people to chat and it was valued a great deal.  For example, @edintheclouds tweeted: “really nice space for discussion between and around the speakers at #creat_ED. It’s rare (and valuable) to have time to think.”

We’ve all been to events that have been tightly time-managed and at the end it can feel that we’ve scaled Everest. Events need to be shaped around humans and humans don’t always fit rigid timetables.

Constructive chaos

creat_ED managed to produce the right environment for great ideas to develop. At times we swerved into complete chaos but overall we kept the pot bubbling away.

The unconference structure was an education for me and, as someone that likes to plan and manage, rather a leap of faith. But it worked and created a vibe that I think @creativetallis summed up neatly in their tweet “Inspiring start #creat_ED conference. There’s a buzz in the room – risk, agility, fearlessness, connectivity, creativity & other goodness.”

The creat_ED future

There has been a lot of ‘what next?’ from people that attended creat_ED (or wished they had). I think the space we created is really important to preserve and the feedback we had suggests that if we organised creat_ED again we wouldn’t be on our own….

Ideas, edges and Creat_ED


What is the best environment for generating good ideas? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently as I’ve been working on developing the unconference Creat_ED.

Creat_ED is a one-day event for individuals and organisations from education, technology and the creative industries who want to shape an alternative learning future. It's taking place at The Barbican on June 21.

In his book, Where Great Ideas Come From, Steve Johnson offers a useful metaphor about the type of environment that allows ideas to flourish and develop: solids, gases and liquids.

Johnson explains that gases are way too unstable and chaotic for ideas to coalesce. Ideas exist but for just a millisecond before they disperse. They can’t gain traction.

On the other hand, solids are simply inert. There is no potential for new ideas to come about, as there is no mobility.

Unsurprisingly, it’s liquids that secure the Goldlocks ‘just right’ from Johnson. There is greater movement and flow for ideas to come about. In fact, he explains that it’s specifically the edge of liquids, as they reach boiling point, where idea creation is most fertile.

Creat_ED is working hard to create the right conditions for great ideas to come about. The ingredients include:

  • Space for chaos
  • Participants that have a mandate to be curious, to challenge and to act
  • A simple structure to make sure ideas can gain purchase
  • Remarkable people telling their stories and ‘stoking the fire’
  • A super-brilliant facilitator that can help us all to join the dots

I’m looking forward to being wholeheartedly part of this experiment and helping to bring about amazing, remarkable good ideas.

Tickets for Creat_ED are available at: