Staff Training is Essential to Manage Risk During the ‘New Normal’

21 May 2020

The Purpose of Policies

You may have heard the phrase ‘Policy to Culture’ but what exactly does it mean? To understand the meaning of ‘Policy to Culture’ you only need to ask yourself the question: Why do schools bother to document policies and procedures? The simple answer is that 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.

That is why schools don’t have a policy for how to fill up petrol in a school vehicle, or how to walk down a set of stairs. While both of these activities actually have an element of risk, these activities are so common place that it is generally considered that common sense will suffice and there is no need to create a set of instructions to mitigate the risk.

However, this is not the case with many aspects of school operations. Sometimes having a policy is actually a legal compliance requirement. Think “privacy policy”, “workplace safety policy” “whistleblower policy”, “school registration policies” “child protection policies” etc. And sometimes having a policy is critical for creating a set of behaviour standards that a school requires its staff to adhere to. Think “codes of conduct”, “staff student professional boundaries” etc.

Unfortunately, some schools (and many other organisations) often take the view that all they need in order to be compliant is to publish a compliant policy. But of course, just publishing a policy doesn’t achieve compliance. To achieve compliance a policy needs to create desired behavioural outcomes, so as to influence the cultural practices and behaviours of an organisation as a whole. In order to have this effect, much more is required than simply having a policy.

Organisational culture is often described as ‘what we do when no one is looking’. Effective organisations should be aiming to ensure that the standards of behaviour that they require of staff are embedded in the cultural practices of the organisation.

How to achieve this? We must first acknowledge that this is not an easy or straightforward process but at the same time we can identify some important elements that must be in place if there is to be any hope of taking people on the ‘policy to culture journey’. Perhaps the most essential element is the need for extensive, high quality and targeted staff training.


Schools Need to Train Staff in a Wide Variety of Content Areas

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 professional development (PD) to support their policies and meet the requirements for legal and regulatory compliance. 

Some of the staff training requirements for schools are:

  • induction of staff, replacement teachers, casual sports staff, volunteers and contractors
  • school governance training for board members and executives (Responsible Persons in New South Wales)
  • legal and regulatory compliance training (including in key areas such as child protection, workplace safety and privacy)
  • training in the values and ethos of the school (including codes of conduct)
  • operations training (including playground supervision and report writing)
  • student health, welfare and safety (including anaphylaxis and general first aid training)
  • human resources (anti-discrimination, anti-bullying and harassment and internal grievances)
  • staff wellbeing and development
  • curriculum based PD (by subject area and pedagogy training).

While not all schools will see the need to train staff in all these areas, it is worth considering the legal liability issues that may arise where the school has a significant policy area such as health and safety, but fails to train staff in relation to it or where a school has specific policies on safe excursion management but fails to train staff in relation to these policies. If something goes wrong, there is potential for student or staff injury, or worse, and this could result in serious reputational damage in additional to legal liability. Schools should also consider that many organisations are spending considerable sums of money on staff training in all of the areas mentioned in the list above and consider the training essential to maintaining organisational culture, compliance and the overall reduction of risk.

In general, most schools would like to deliver more online PD to staff if they could find quality PD and this is especially the case in the current landscape where quality online PD is a necessity.

A recent survey conducted by School Governance found that schools consider one of the most challenging aspects of organising staff PD to be managing relief cover for staff, budget constraints and the overall expense of PD, followed by some difficulties in finding quality content. While the majority of schools funded most if, not all, of a staff member’s PD requirements, many schools only gave their teachers limited support in this regard, due to cost constraints associated with off campus PD.


What are the Risks of Not Training Staff?

Heath 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 workers and students from workplace hazards. One of the primary methods of protection is training in relation to safe work practices.

Child 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 which provides an overview of ‘our child protection policies’ but something which looks more deeply into issues such as factors that influence the development of a child safe organisational culture.

Excursion Safety Training

A recent School Governance survey found that 80 per cent of staff receive no excursion management or excursion safety training. Unfortunately, many schools conduct excursions where there is a lack of a policy framework for staff 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.

Teacher Registration Issues

Teachers must complete PD to maintain registration as a teacher. This speaks for itself but is a key risk as many teachers leaving it until the last minute to complete their PD requirements for teacher registration. This leads to another risk….

Poor Training Records

A recent School Governance survey indicated 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. Many schools only find out at a very late stage, often not long before a teacher’s registration is due to expire, that the teacher is well behind in meeting the required number of PD hours. Poor teacher training records are therefore a significant risk to a school.


The Need for Online Training Not Just Face to Face

During the COVID-19 period of shutdown, schools have needed to develop their own PD or find quality online PD for their staff. The initial focus has been on PD related to the working from home and online learning environments. As time goes on the needs will change given that attending face to face PD may be an issue for some time. In addition, many schools are seeing the benefits of providing online PD both in terms of cost savings as well as receiving a positive response from teachers and other staff in respect of the convenience of online learning, particularly where it is self-paced.

A recent School Governance survey during the lockdown indicated that 50 per cent of schools were only “somewhat prepared” to deliver staff PD in an online environment. In answer to another question, 60 per cent said that they have postponed staff PD due to the COVID-19 circumstances. This may indicate a lack of online learning PD alternatives.


Staff Want PD, Schools Want PD – Online and Face to Face

Surveys indicate that staff want good quality PD that helps them do their job better and see substantial value in the PD that they receive particularly regarding meeting accreditation requirements, improving their own teaching standards and contributing to their own wellbeing. Good quality PD also has a positive impact on assisting teachers to develop other staff and their decision to ‘stay’ at the school where they currently teach.

Schools want their staff to be trained in compliance, they want teachers to receive training that adds value to the school, develops expertise, makes the school safer for everyone and reduces risk.

Both schools and their staff want online as well as face to face training. Face to face training will continue to be relevant for many reasons including where demonstrations are required and practical skills developed and for the benefits of networking and workshopping with colleagues. Online training is great for staff convenience, for the potential for an increased variety of courses that are available and for enabling self-paced learning. Online learning also reduces the substantial costs of having staff off site that would need to be covered by a relief teacher.

Jonathan Oliver

Jonathan is a Principal Consultant working with CompliSpace education clients. He has more than 10 years experience in the school sector as a teacher, compliance and legal adviser and more recently as a Business Manager. Jonathan has been a solicitor for nearly 30 years and worked in both private practice and community legal centres.