Top Five Compliance Risks for Small Schools: Advice from the World of Small Business

18 July 2019

According to the Treasury Research Institute, the cost of compliance in many industries is proportionately higher for small businesses than it is for large businesses. This is because regulations often impose the same “fixed compliance costs” across the board, regardless of a business’s capacity to meet them.

What’s true for business generally is also true for schools. Whether you’re running a primary school with three staff or a K-12 super school with a dedicated HR Department, you will have to comply with the same regulations even though you don’t have the same resources.

The web is full of tips for how small businesses can meet this challenge. The problem is that much of this advice is written in a kind of hyped-up marketing jargon that most educators would find off-putting and irrelevant. To solve this problem, we’ve cut through the jargon and plucked out the best of the web to give you the “schools version” of the top five compliance risks for small businesses and what you can do to avoid them.


The Risks

1.  Not Understanding Legal Requirements

Schools are subject to many of the same employment, work safety, environmental and financial regulations as any other business, but they also have to deal with increasingly complex registration and child safety requirements.

A large school can afford the special resources needed to figure out how often the mandatory reporters are supposed to be informed of their obligations and whether a Safe Work Method Statement is required before commencing refurbishments to the play equipment. But in a small school, these tasks are often left up to an already overworked principal or deputy who has neither the training nor inclination to understand them.


2.  Not Properly Vetting and Classifying Staff

In business, a poor hiring choice can have a devastating impact on sales and reputation. But at least you won’t lose your legal right to continue running the business. In schools, on the other hand, hiring a teacher who’s unregistered or a coach with an expired Working with Children Check can cost you your registration. And if the school is small, then so is the pool of available staff, and it may take you a long (and costly) time to fill the post.


3.  Losing Track of Paperwork

Is your HR system scattered across time and space? Does it consist of faded printouts, passive-aggressive Post-It notes and “those emails from Janine that maybe I deleted last April”? Most small schools don’t have a dedicated HR Department, and hence don’t have a dedicated HR system. Those things that are recorded probably won’t be recorded well, which means that even if you have been doing the right thing you may have to pull an all-nighter to find the evidence to prove it.


4.  Not Keeping Up-to-Date

The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority updated its school registration guidelines in December 2018. The New South Wales equivalent was updated in January 2019. Both of those jurisdictions have made multiple amendments to their education legislation in the past year. All Australian jurisdictions are in the process of amending their child protection requirements.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Schools are one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, and changes to those regulations come not only frequently but quietly. Many small schools won’t even know what they’re supposed to be doing until they get ‘busted’ for doing it wrongly.


5.  Trying to Do Everything Yourself

A recent survey by Bond University found that nearly 62 per cent of teachers met the criteria for suffering moderate to severe anxiety. One of the key contributing factors was work overload. For educators, work overload might not be too bad if what you’re overloaded with is just more teaching. But in reality, it’s probably going to be more paperwork, more legal work, more of what you don’t understand or care about. And in a small school where roles are less defined and everyone has to wear multiple hats, the load may be even heavier.


What You Can Do About It

To complete this article we scoured small business and personal finance blogs across the internet, from’s 21 tips from small businesses that are killing it and lumatax’s 5 Small Business Tax Compliance Mistakes to Avoid to the Barefoot Investor’s Life Changing Power of Rituals and more.

Across all of these sources, the same underlying advice came through again and again: focus on your specialty. Outsource and automate everything else.

For schools this means focusing on teaching and looking after students and letting other people and systems bear the heavy load of policy and compliance. For small schools this can be easier said than done. It costs money to engage new personnel and to set up new systems, and it costs time and energy to break your old habits and learn how to do things differently. Money, time and energy – three things that small schools can rarely spare.

The good news is that with developments in technology, the cost of outsourced “Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC)” systems is dropping. At the same time, GRC Systems are becoming simpler and more user-friendly.

There is some effort involved in setting up a GRC System, but in the long run, a good GRC System can save a small school time, money and anxiety.

It’s a case of short-term cost vs long-term gain. Or, in business terms, a “cost-benefit analysis”. The challenge for staff at small schools is to find a spare 20 minutes to do the sums.

Mark Bryan

Mark is a Legal Research Consultant at CompliSpace. Mark has worked as a Legal Policy Officer for the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and the NSW Department of Justice. He also spent three years as lead editor for the private sessions narratives team at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in Arts/Law from the Australian National University with First Class Honours in Law, a Graduate Diploma in Writing from UTS and a Graduate Certificate in Film Directing from the Australian Film Television and Radio School.