Interview with Tom Davies, Bursar at Monkton.
The role of Bursar is one that has seen significant change over recent years, that shows no signs of slowing as the areas the role is responsible to expand and develop. Tom Davies is Bursar at independent boarding and day school, Monkton near Bath. He shares his thoughts on the changing responsibilities of Bursars and passes on his advice to those looking to embrace the challenges and opportunities the role presents.
“I suspect that many people – our customers, staff and pupils included – might be surprised to hear it, but I find it hard to imagine that there has ever been a more fascinating time to be in a senior leadership role in the independent school sector. I say this because it has fallen to the current generation of leaders to navigate this sector through some of the most profound changes it has faced, certainly in recent times.
“To put context around the scale of these challenges, I can’t recall many (if any) instances in my previous career in a large accountancy firm, when clients were faced with issues such as a nearly 10 per cent increase to their payroll bill in a single year, with less than 12 months’ notice. Yet this is something that many schools will experience from next September following a change to the Teacher’s Pension Scheme. I also never encountered an instance in which we needed to consider an organisation’s response to the potential loss of charitable status or some of the financial concessions independent schools currently have, many of which could have a potential six-figure impact on a school’s expenditure.
“And so, if you are fortunate enough to secure a role as a Bursar, you will need to utilise all the experiences you have gained from previous careers to address challenges of this scale. Be it in leadership, change management, strategic development or financial planning: all will be relevant as you assume the role and its responsibilities.
“You are also joining a live, vibrant and, in the case of a boarding school, 24-hour community, in which the Bursar plays the role of Head of the support side of the school. Indeed, one of my predecessors once said to me that being a Bursar was like trying to run a business in someone else’s house. I haven’t been able to find a better way to describe the dynamics of the position!
“With that dynamic it is all too easy to find yourself as the go-to person for countless operational issues from bin collection to that day’s lunch menu, data protection to investment strategy. The aspects of a school’s life that are increasingly the responsibility of a Bursar are huge, and without a proper structure can be guaranteed to occupy all of your time and indeed often more.
“If you are to deliver on your strategic responsibilities, you need a strong support management team around you to manage the operational side. I have spent much of my first two years in post putting this team in place and getting the structure right, reducing my direct reports from 12 to five.
“My biggest piece of advice would be that when you assume your role you should spend some time looking at your team’s structure and making it work for you. Every individual occupying the role of a Bursar will have a different way of structuring their team and much will depend on your own experiences and strengths but, without the support of a strong team, your ability to play the senior leadership role the school needs you to play with be heavily impaired.”
TOM DAVIES BIOGRAPHY
Tom Davies joined Monkton as Bursar in October 2016. A chartered accountant, Tom had previously been a Director in the Education and Charities team at the accountancy firm, Grant Thornton UK LLP where he had advised and audited a number of schools, universities and large charities. He also regularly wrote and presented on issues affecting the charity and education sectors.
Before training as an accountant, Tom was the founding Director of an international NGO which focused on providing education and support for disadvantaged children.
Saxton Bampfylde works extensively with Schools advising on Bursar and Head of Finance appointments. If you would like a discussion about our work in this area get in touch