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Navigating Excellence: Insights from the ISBA Annual Conference

May saw Jenny Arrowsmith and I travel to Newport, South Wales for the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA) Annual Conference. This vibrant event brought together bursars, senior management, and educators from many independent schools across the UK and beyond, including South Africa and even Australia!

A Place of Discovery

The ICC Wales’ bright and airy meeting rooms, surrounded by greenery, set the stage for meaningful conversations. Delegates gathered to explore innovative solutions, share best practices, and chart a course for their schools’ success.

Professional Development and Networking

The conference unfolded over two and a half days, blending plenary sessions, breakout discussions, and an impressive exhibition featuring 180 stands; one of which was ours!  The caterers in the room always gather the largest crowds, and who wouldn’t be tempted by such an array of delicacies. But I think our spin the wheel game went down pretty well too; a little bit of retro fun!  Chatting with bursars is always enlightening and topics ranged from fee arrangement contracts, Articles of Association reviews to mergers and partnerships, teacher well-being and what ‘good’ governance looks like.

Key points I took away

  1. Independent schools face many challenges: including changing parental buying behaviour, embracing AI and becoming carbon neutral.
  2. Non-fee income is a priority – can your facilities be hired out to the local community? 
  3. What can the independent school sector learn from state schools? Could your staff be part of a multi academy trust board? Knowledge is definitely two-way.
  4. There is a key relationship between the Headteacher, the Bursar and the Chair of Governors. Is yours working well? 
  5. Don’t rest on your laurels. We mustn’t assume that what has worked before will continue to work (and certainly all the articles I’ve read since regarding the potential changing political landscape would support this view).
  6. Culture trumps strategy every time. The humans who make up your school (pupils, teachers, support staff, parents, governors etc) are the ones who will make your strategy effective and who put the life into the school.

A Shared Vision

The ISBA’s mission resonated throughout: to empower schools with the knowledge, resources, and connections they need. As exhibitors, we felt privileged to contribute. The camaraderie was palpable – a collective drive to elevate education.

And who was to know that the very next day, the General Election was called, potentially bringing so much more change to the sector?