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National Boarding Week - Boarding Staff Training: An Essential Risk Control

19/05/22
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This article has been adapted from an article that was originally published in “Lights Out”. You can access the full publication here.  

A recent School Governance survey discovered that most schools see professional development (PD) as a valuable way to provide staff development and better teaching and duty of care delivery. They conduct PD regularly throughout the year, with slightly more PD conducted in Term 1.

The survey also highlighted several other matters including that:

  • the COVID-19 lockdowns caused a major shift away from face-to-face PD and towards online delivery
  • the COVID-19 lockdowns changed schools’ choices of PD content, with many schools seeking content through online learning
  • at the time, more than half of schools were only “somewhat prepared” or “not prepared” to deliver PD online/remotely. This situation has changed significantly since then
  • now schools see online PD as a positive opportunity
  • schools’ PD budgets are either remaining the same or decreasing
  • about half of schools subsidise PD for teacher registration. Most of those that do subsidise it are spending $400-1000 per staff member per year, and many are spending $1000+
  • most (but not all) schools keep track of PD
  • responsibility for managing PD is often shared and it is not always clear who has primary responsibility
  • there is no single, commonly-used system for recording PD completion and managing PD data
  • the most challenging aspects of organising PD are budget and managing staff replacements.

Sadly, anecdotal evidence indicates that the provision of PD for staff in boarding facilities is far less than for teaching staff, yet these supervisors are responsible for the duty of care for boarders for the other 18 hours of the day.

In today’s boarding communities, and now more than ever, boarding staff need to be well-informed and have a deep understanding of how regulatory requirements and school policies impact on how they manage risks and how they care for the boarders. Boarding facilities continue to become more complex, and the demands of the job continue to increase. Boarding staff need to have increasing skills sets, through training, to respond to these complexities within the boarding environment. These issues include increased complexity in:

  • the needs of adolescents, including mental health issues, the impact of social media and technology, increased socio-economic and cultural diversity, and physical health issues such as obesity and allergies
  • the needs and expectations of parents, including changes in parent/child relationships, parenting styles, and family structure, and increased or decreased parental involvement and engagement.

If training is going to be impactful, schools need to better understand what their boarding staff really need to know, and they need to allocate a suitable budget to allow for this training to take place.

All boarding schools will tell you that training is an essential part of inducting boarding staff on the requirements of their roles, and for ensuring that these staff continue to grow and develop. But are they regularly presented with the things that the boarding staff need to know, at the right time, and in the right format, to ensure that they can learn and support and engage with the boarding school’s culture?

 

Policy to Culture - What Does This Mean?

 

You may have heard the phrase ‘policy to culture’ but what exactly does it mean? All schools, not just boarding schools, have policies and procedures in place to manage risk. And for policies and procedures to effectively manage risk, they ultimately must create desired behavioural outcomes or, put another way, affect the culture of the organisation.

 

Unfortunately, some boarding schools (and many day schools) take the view that all they need to be compliant is to publish a compliant policy. But, of course, just publishing a policy does not achieve compliance. To achieve compliance, a policy needs to create desired behavioural outcomes to influence the cultural practices and behaviours of the boarding school. To have this effect, much more is required than simply having a policy.

Policies need to be put into practice by the staff. Policies need to be understood, applied and reviewed to ensure that they are effective in controlling the associated risks. However, it is often the ‘understood’ component that boarding schools, and many day schools, do not do well.

To understand the requirements of a policy, boarding staff must be trained in how to use the policy and the procedures effectively. They must understand the required behaviours that the boarding school requires of its supervisory staff, and they must apply these behaviours in their day-to-day duty of care of the boarders.

Basically, to make the words on the page move across to become part of the culture of the boarding school, staff need to be trained in how to implement the policy and know that they are expected to follow the policy in how they act.

 

What Training is Required as Effective Controls?

 

So, what is worse – not having a policy or having a policy and not training staff in relation to the policy? It is not always well understood that schools need a wide range of PD to support their policies and meet the requirements for legal and regulatory compliance. Some of the training requirements for school boarding staff are:

  • induction of staff including replacement supervisors, casual staff, volunteers and contractors
  • legal and regulatory compliance training (including in key areas such as privacy, workplace safety and child protection)
  • school values and ethos (including codes of conduct)
  • operations training (including boarding facility supervision and excursion management)
  • student health, welfare and safety (including anaphylaxis and general first aid training)
  • human resources (anti-discrimination, anti-bullying and harassment and internal grievances)
  • complaints management
  • staff wellbeing and development.

While not all schools may see the need to train their boarding staff in all these areas, it is worth considering the legal liability issues that may arise where a school has a significant policy area such as health and safety but fails to train its boarding staff in relation to it or where a school has specific policies on safe excursion management but fails to train the boarding supervisors in relation to these policies.

 

If something goes wrong, there is potential for boarder or staff injury or worse, and this could result in serious reputational damage in addition to legal liability. Schools should also consider that many organisations are spending considerable sums of money on staff training in all the areas mentioned in the list above and consider the training essential to maintaining organisational culture, compliance and the overall reduction of risk.

 

Here’s some more details about some of the key subject areas applicable to boarding schools.

 

Health and Safety Training

This is a requirement under health and safety legislation. Health and safety requirements in every state and territory require organisations to train staff in how to maintain a safe work environment. There is a duty to protect boarding staff and boarders from workplace hazards. One of the primary methods of protection is training in relation to safe work practices.

 

 

Child Safe/Protection Training

This is a requirement of state and territory education regulatory bodies and a requirement of child protection legislation. In addition, Principle 7 of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations states:

 

Staff and volunteers are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children and young people safe through ongoing education and training.

 

This includes the following listed indicators as evidence that Principle 7 is being upheld:

 

  • The organisation provides regular opportunities to educate and train staff on child safety and wellbeing policies and procedures and evidence-based practice.
  • Staff and volunteers receive training in the rights of children and young people in relation to records being created about children and young people and their use.

Clearly Principle 7 envisages ongoing child safe training not once-a-year training, and not just training that provides an overview of ‘our child protection policies’ but something that looks more deeply into issues such as factors that influence the development of a child safe organisational culture.

 

The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations are mandatory or soon to become mandatory in some jurisdictions with the other jurisdictions likely to follow over the next couple of years. In any event, they represent best practice.

 

Excursion Safety Training

In a recent CompliSpace Webinar survey, the presenters noted that 80 per cent of staff in schools receive no excursion management or excursion safety training. Unfortunately, many boarding schools conduct excursions where there is a lack of a policy framework for the supervisors to follow on how to conduct the excursion and activity in a safe manner. If there is no policy, there can be no training in relation to the policy.

 

Privacy Training

Privacy law compliance does not operate in a vacuum and compliance under the privacy laws requires a lot more than simply publishing a 'privacy policy' on your boarding school’s public website or putting a privacy collection notice on a form. As part of its risk management procedures, boarding schools should ensure that all staff receive training about their privacy obligations and the boarding school’s expectations with respect to the management of personal information.

 

Complaints Management

The Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences [AS 5725:2015] refers to the need for boarding schools to deal with complaints from boarders, parents, staff and the broader community in Clauses 3.3 (d, vi) Safety of Boarders, 3.4 (n) Health and Well Being of Boarders, 4.2 (d, vi) Health, Safety and Well Being of Staff and 5.2 (a, iv) Parent and Family Engagement.

Boarding schools need to have policies, procedures and people trained to deal with complaints, if they wish to be compliant with the Boarding Standard and, more importantly, if they wish to maintain control of the agenda when dealing with complaints, problems and issues raised by members of their community.

 

Other Issues to Contemplate

 

Poor Training Records

 

A survey of schools in School Governance found that only 50 per cent of schools maintain all staff training records centrally. Of the others, some records are kept centrally, and others are kept by staff. Where the school does keep records of staff training, over 50 per cent used multiple systems within the one school. Poor boarding supervisor training records are a significant risk to a school.

 

 

The Need for Online Training Not Just Face-to-Face

 

During the COVID-19 periods of shutdown, schools developed their own PD or found quality online PD for their staff. The initial focus was on PD related to the working from home and online learning environments.

 

ABSA has helped, and continues to help, to fill the void in this PD space by offering a plethora of quality online learning opportunities for boarding staff including their valuable ‘certificate’ and duty of care courses. Many boarding schools are seeing the benefits of providing online PD both in terms of cost savings as well as receiving a positive response from their boarding supervisors and other staff in respect of the convenience of online learning, particularly where it is self-paced.

 

 

Boarding Staff Want PD, Boarding Schools Want PD - Online and

Face-to-Face

 

Surveys indicate that all staff, not just boarding staff, want good quality PD that helps them to do their job better. They see substantial value in the PD that they receive particularly regarding meeting accreditation requirements, improving their own duty of care standards and contributing to their own wellbeing. Good quality PD also has a positive impact on assisting senior boarding supervisors to develop junior supervisors and their decision to ‘stay’ at the school where they currently care for the boarders.

 

Boarding schools want their boarding staff to be trained in compliance, they want staff to receive training that adds value to the boarding facility, develops expertise, makes the boarding houses safer for everyone and reduces risk.

 

With the shadow of COVID-19 dissipating, it is apparent that boarding schools and their staff want online as well as face-to-face training.

 

Face-to-face training continues to be relevant for many reasons including where demonstrations are required, practical skills need to be developed and for the benefits of networking and workshopping with colleagues.

 

Online training is great for staff convenience, the potential for an increased variety of courses that are available and enabling self-paced learning. Online learning also reduces the substantial costs of having staff offsite as staff absences often need to be covered by a casual staff member.

 

So, will boarding schools increase both the offerings of PD for their supervisors and other staff and ensure that their PD budgets allow for valid, good quality and effective training for the people who care for the boarders for 18 hours or more each day?

 

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About the Author

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.

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