School Policy Implementation – A Journey or a Destination? (Part One)

School Policy Implementation

This is the first part of a two part series on policy implementation in schools. Part one highlights the myths of policy management and implementation, and proposes some key measurements for a school to gauge its success in implementing its policies. Part two provides practical considerations for a school to consider to improve the implementation of its policies and procedures framework.

The ever increasing number and complexity of school policies that are mandated by law, regulation and school authorities presents an ongoing challenge to school leaders.

Of course having a policy is only the first step in ensuring organisational legal and regulatory compliance.

This two part series explores the difficulties associated with policy implementation and compliance, and some suggestions on how schools can improve their ability to implement policies and ensure they are continuously complying with them.

The Myths of Policy Management and Implementation

There are many myths in relation to policy compliance. Some of these are:

Myth 1: Having a Policy Equals Compliance

While you do need a policy that is kept up-to-date with changes in law and regulation and is tailored to the organisation or school, this policy also needs to be implemented.

Having a policy and not implementing it is a significant organisational risk. For example, in workplace health and safety there is a whole line of legal authority which focuses on the failure of organisations to properly implement policies increasing dangers in the workplace.

Further, school registration authorities will conduct inspections of schools to confirm that policies are actually implemented. If a school fails to satisfy a registration inspector that their policies are implemented and understood by staff, they could have conditions placed on their registration, or potentially suffer other penalties.

Myth 2: I only need to be compliant when I get checked

An unfortunate but common myth is that schools only need to be able to demonstrate compliance at the time of re-registration by school registration authorities. If a policy is not actually implemented and trained on an ongoing basis, for example by confirming its existence is known by staff and that they understand its relevance, then it may be difficult to satisfy a registration inspector, or in the worst case scenario a law court, that the school’s policies are actually followed.

Schools are only just beginning to understand the need for continuous compliance with their legal obligations. Registration authorities are also now undertaking inspections at short notice to ensure that schools do not ignore their compliance obligations in between re-registration periods.

Myth 3: I only need the bare minimum to get re-registered

Following on from the above, schools are often unduly focussed on re-registration policies and ignore the many other compliance requirements that mandate effective policy implementation. The registration process only provides a snapshot of a school’s legal and regulatory obligations – there are many other policies that are required by legislation.

For example, a school is required under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) to have a clearly expressed and up-to-date policy about the management of its personal information, and to take reasonable steps to make this Privacy Policy available free of charge and in an appropriate form, usually on a public website. This is a legal requirement but is usually not referred to by authorities in significant detail under registration requirements.

Myth 4: A generic policy will be sufficient to get me out of trouble

Many schools make the mistake of thinking that simply putting the school’s letterhead at the top of an off-the-shelf policy will be enough to satisfy a regulator that a policy exists if they conduct an inspection.

However, a policy that is off-the-shelf and not tailored to your school’s individual circumstances or customised for your particular environment presents another significant organisational risk. These policies cannot be considered to be implemented in their current form as they do not suit a school’s particular internal processes. These off-the-shelf policies are very recogniseable and will likely be identified as not being customised by a registration inspector, providing clear evidence that the school’s policies are not actually implemented.

Myth 5: I have time to get compliant once the law changes

Schools often assume they will have sufficient lead-in time to allow them to assess the impact of a legal change, determine how policies and processes will need to adjust, and follow through on these adjustments, before the law properly takes effect.

Whilst this myth may hold true for some laws, many changes occur at short notice, particularly those that are made by school registration authorities. Recently, changes to child protection laws have often occured with limited, to no, notice – legislative amendments routinely commence on the day they are first assented to. This leaves schools with very little time to become compliant, particularly if their policies are not flexible, or worse, are off-the-shelf.

Measuring Success in Policy Implementation

Below is a series of statements to help measure how successful your school has been in policy implementation.

The extent to which your school can ‘confirm’ each statement will present a good guide for the maturity of your school’s policy management framework.

  • School policies are sufficient to meet legal and regulatory requirements and exist for all required compliance areas.
  • Public facing documents as required by law or regulation are in fact public facing and are kept up to date.
  • Policies are communicated to staff including appropriate training of staff, contractors and volunteers.
  • Policies are actually being followed.
  • Policies are subject to regular review and updated in a timely manner when law and regulations change.
  • Where breaches of policies occur these are dealt with (policies are enforced).
  • Data collection occurs to provide key data on policy compliance for specific events such as student, staff and visitor incidents and accidents and complaints and these are recorded and managed appropriately.
  • There are systems for reporting breaches of policies and these are understood and used by staff.
  • Regular reviews and reports are received by management regarding policies and key data related to policy implementation and policy effectiveness (eg aggregated data on safety incidents, workplace inspection reports etc).
  • Systems and procedures are in place to support policies. These systems and procedures include external audits and reviews where appropriate.
  • There is a demonstrable top-down culture of policy development, policy review and policy compliance in the school (the leadership lead by example).
  • A positive compliance culture is evident within the school community.
  • Policy and compliance failures are seen as opportunities to review and improve.

As checklists go this is a difficult one to take much comfort from, as many readers will give their school a ‘pass’ mark at best. However, if your school can measure its success in policy implementation, this will be an important first step in improving your approach to policy implementation and management.

About the Author

Jonathan Oliver is a Senior Business Consultant at CompliSpace. He can be contacted here.

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