Making a List and Checking it Twice…

Published
06 February 2020

The commencement of every new school year is a time of excitement and joy for children attending ‘big school’ for the first time and, even though they may not like to admit it, it is also a time of excitement for the students returning to senior school. However, it is an incredibly busy time for teachers, preparing classrooms and programs and for school administration staff who need to have the school and all the facilities ready for day one. Have you missed anything on your checklist?

On day one, the grounds look fantastic, classrooms are bright, and the principal is welcoming families back to the school and doing the usual ‘meet and greet’ in the carpark or playground. The staff are greeting students and parents, students are unpacking bags and setting up their desks or their lockers, friendships are rekindled, and everything is ready to go for the commencement of the new academic year. However, have you ensured that you really do have everything ready for the wide-eyed and eager children back in your care for another year? 

We thought that schools may find this checklist, and the attached School Governance articles, a useful tool to ensure that they have ticked some of the major risks that need to be reviewed as the new school year commences.  Many schools do not realise the value of the articles in School Governance-they are a valid set of ‘go to’ documents for reference as well as general professional reading for teachers, school executive staff and board members. So, let’s begin!

 

A Master Risk Checklist

1.   Child Protection

This is probably one of the most significant risks that schools need to address. Thankfully, most schools’ awareness and positive action is continuing to increase in relation to this key risk. However, some aspects can still fall between the cracks if schools have not ensured that their policies and procedures are part of a total child protection program that commences with their governing body and transmitted to staff, volunteers, contractors and parents.

  1. Q&A with expert Deborah de Fina, Principal Consultant - Child Protection at CompliSpace
  2. Why Schools Cannot Wipe the Slate Clean on Child Protection
  3. Australian Capital Territory Child Protection Requirements for Non-Government Schools – Update 2019
  4. Queensland Child Protection – Changes in relation to Information Sharing

2.   Registration and Compliance

Are all your policies up to date? Are you aware of any registration changes that are applicable to your state or territory for the commencement of this year? Some jurisdictions have had no changes but most that have tended to apply changes from January 1. In addition to jurisdictional requirements, is your school required to have a whistleblower program and policy in place – the due date for the policy requirement was 1 January 2020?

  1. NESA Updated Registration Manuals and Updated Interim Revocation, Suspension and Voluntary Cancellation of Accreditation Policy
  2. Updates to SA School Registration Standards
  3. Updated VRQA Guidelines Increase Governance Requirements for Victorian Schools
  4. Western Australian Registration- Updated 2020 Standards and Guide
  5. Preparing for the New Whistleblower Obligations

 

3.   Governing Body Strategic Planning

The degree to which a school is delivering on its vision or purpose can be difficult to assess but it can be aided by the governing body determining and assessing appropriate performance categories and indicators for the school. Once a school has decided on its purpose and related strategies, the school is required, in all jurisdictions, to create strategic planning processes to track progress to measure the school’s performance and to determine if the school is appropriately executing its strategies and achievements for its purpose. Has your school allocated sufficient time for your governing body to carry out this crucial strategic planning process?

  1. Failure of School Boards: One of 12 Key Risks
  2. Culture is an Ephemeral Concept - So Should Board Members be Responsible for a Bad Culture?
  3. Non-Financial Governance Reporting: What Does a School Board Actually Need to Know to Make Effective Decisions?
  4. School Fees in 2040: On the Basis of the Current Educational CPI, Will Non-Government Schools Price Themselves Out of the Market?

 

4.   Governing Body Induction and Professional Development

Training for governing bodies assists individual governing body members to understand their roles and responsibilities as governing body members, how their governing body can effectively contribute to the success of their school and the resources available to them. Have you allocated time or training opportunities for your governing body? It is a formal registration requirement in Western Australia and New South Wales.

  1. A Risk Schools Often Miss: Insufficient Governance Training for Governing Bodies
  2. The Relationship Between the School Principal, the Business Manager and the Chair of the Governing Body

 

5.   Teacher Induction and Professional Development

The states and territories have requirements for teacher induction and professional development. This is also backed up by the requirements of the various teacher registration boards around the country. Does your school provide an orientation program that leads onto a more formalised and longer-term induction program or do you leave this as a one, two or three-day orientation and hope that the induction process happens osmotically rather than be directed? In addition, and with the return of children whose lives may have been affected by the bushfires, have you organised any training for your staff to assist them to deal with children who have suffered trauma, hardship or loss due to the fires?

  1. Teacher induction- is orientation enough?
  2. Induction Programs: Do They Really Matter?
  3. Staff Professional Development in a Technological Age. Are We Using the Technology Effectively?

 

6.   Relief Teachers' Induction

Relief teachers are given the same levels of responsibility as your full time teachers on a day-to-day basis regarding duty of care for the children in the classes allocated to them. However, there are still schools who claim to not have the time to engage these relief teachers in formal induction programs. Thankfully, there are schools that provide relief teachers with formal induction and some provide orientation but not induction. Does your school provide a formal induction process for all relief staff? Is this considered to be a registration requirement in your state or territory?

  1. Relief teachers: Is your induction program up to scratch? (Part One)
  2. Relief teachers: Is your induction program up to scratch? (Part Two)

 

7.   School Fees

Have you sent out your annual school fee invoices? Remember that Commonwealth and jurisdictional per capita funding is only available in late January and after census day in February. Does your school have an overdraft facility to cover your staff salary payments and other financial liabilities at this time of year if necessary?

  1. Students who are MIA at the Start of the School Year
  2. How do you deal with parents who will not pay school fees?

 

8.   Bush Fire Preparedness/ Evacuation Drills

Given the bushfire emergency in various states and territories since late 2019, there is little doubt that rural schools have taken notice and updated their bushfire preparedness and evacuation or lock-down policies and procedures. However, have metropolitan schools also considered their bushfire risk potential? It is probably wise to do so immediately. Also, as noted earlier, will your staff receive any extra training in grief or trauma management? Remember that many children will have been affected either directly or indirectly by the bushfires and the staff will need to be prepared to assist them.

  1. Is your school bushfire ready?
  2. The Increasing Prevalence of Bushfires: Even Metropolitan Schools Can Be Affected
  3. School Emergency Plans: What About Out-Of-Hours’ Events?

 

9.   Duty Rosters and Duty of Care issues

Duty rosters should be developed in a manner that provides equitable distribution of duties among teachers, considering the dynamics of your school, any award or agreement requirements and, above all, appropriate risk management strategies. When developing your Semester One or Annual Duty Roster, have these factors been taken into consideration or has the planning been based on who is free either before or after recess or lunch?

  1. Playground Duty and Liability: 10 Years Since the St Marks Case
  2. Yard duty: Developing a roster that provides adequate duty of care for the children
  3. Duty of Care in a School Environment - How Long is a Piece of String?

 

10.   Enrolment Contracts

One clear way to mitigate the financial risk associated with possible late or non-payers of school fees is to have a clear and fair enrolment policy and enrolment contract. Many schools enrol in excess of 100 new students per year. Even smaller schools will enrol at least one cohort into Kindergarten or Year 7. Do not leave anything to chance. Schools are encouraged to have their enrolment contracts vetted and updated by legal advisors on an annual basis. Is this a risk that you are prepared to leave until your next registration visit?

  1. How do you deal with parents who will not pay school fees?
  2. Students who are MIA at the Start of the School Year
  3. School bankrupting parents over unpaid school fees
  4. Managing Unwarranted Parent Demands: How Does Your School Manage Parent Expectations?

 

Summary

This list is not exhaustive. It does not cover every risk that schools need to mitigate against before the commencement of the year. However, it is a good starting point.

We have not discussed issues such as IT and social media, bullying and violence and effective complaints handling. Perhaps schools could review 12 Key Risks for School Boards to Consider in 2019 as an extension to this start up list? 

Basically, having a comprehensive checklist means that you are not leaving anything to chance. As an exercise, perhaps you could have your executive staff compile their own ‘commencement of year checklists’ and examine the similarities and differences. It would also allow for the development of a holistic checklist that assists you to ensure that your school really is ready for the return of the children.

Craig D’cruz

With 37 years of educational experience, Craig D’cruz is the National Education Lead at CompliSpace. Craig provides direction on education matters including new products, program/module content and training. Previously Craig held the roles of Industrial Officer at the Association of Independent Schools of WA, he was the Principal of a K-12 non-government school, Deputy Principal of a systemic non-government school and he has had teaching and leadership experience in both the independent and Catholic school sectors. Craig currently sits on the board of a large non-government school and is a regular presenter on behalf of CompliSpace and other educational bodies on issues relating to school governance, school culture and leadership.