Becoming a Bursar
– My Experience

Posted: 4th Nov 2019

Exploring the world of civilian management for Service leavers

Chris Way presented at our recent Military Vs Civilian Management seminar, where we explored the nuances of civilian management roles for Service leavers. Chris left the military some time ago, and has since established a rewarding career as a School Bursar.

How long was your military career?
I joined the RAF in 1987 and left after nearly 25 years. During that time, I was an Aerosystems engineer with a specialisation in air-launched weapon systems.

Why did you decide to become a Bursar?
When I left the RAF in 2012, I initially looked at traditional engineering and project management roles. My wife, who had worked in schools, suggested I look at the role of a Bursar as she thought that it would suit my skill set. I found the role at Tettenhall College through an OA advert and applied. After going through a lengthy interview process I was offered the job; I finished in the RAF on a Friday and started the following Monday at the College!

You have been a Bursar for 7 years now – why is this a good career for ex-military people?
The skills you develop in the military lend themselves very well to those required of a Bursar. Many independent schools have ex-military personnel as their bursars. I think they like the military mindset of getting on with the job and the independence and self-confidence that is instilled during a military career.

What are the key transferable skills you use in your role, learnt in the military?
The skills I found most valuable were those of leadership and decision-making. Planning and the ability to manage finances are key; most roles will require some form of financial knowledge with some potentially requiring professional accountancy or business qualifications. You might have some great experiences of budget management in the military, think back and give interesting examples – I’m sure they’ll stand out compared to some typical civilian examples. Experience of education is not normally essential.

What does a normal day look like for you?
The Bursar is responsible for the day-to-day functioning (and long-term security) of the School. Every day is different so there is no such thing as a “normal” day. One day you might be dealing with personnel or HR issue and the next day having a difficult conversation with a parent about non-payment of fees. Hours can be long with a typical working day lasting around 11 hours with a short break for lunch. Some weekend and evening working is inevitable. However, the job is never dull!!

Do you have any top tips for Service leavers who are looking to start their career as a Bursar?
The ISBA website has a wealth of information freely available for those considering going into this field. They also run a course entitled “So you want to become a Bursar?”. Networking is always great – if you have an independent school near you, contact their Bursar and speak to them to see if they are willing to help you with advice. The OA also has a Network Contact List where former officers offer guidance to others looking for civvy roles. It’s also good to note that some schools will call the role by different titles such as Chief Operations Officer or Operations Director.

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