How to change the narrative on internal scrutiny and deliver 5 key benefits.
With the recent December 31st deadline to submit details of your internal scrutiny to the DfE (Department for Education), you may feel that internal scrutiny is not your favourite subject amongst the myriad of daily and monthly things to consider when running a school or trust.
But what if you could change the narrative around internal scrutiny and position it to deliver five key benefits now and in the future so it becomes an essential part of running your school or trust?
Having many years of experience in the sector, we have seen the need for internal scrutiny reporting change somewhat. Rather than a strict series of tests, the approach of the DfE to internal scrutiny has become a more fluid, risk-based approach. It is also now necessary to employ someone outside of your external auditors to conduct your internal scrutiny both across financial and non-financial aspects.
But how is internal scrutiny viewed in your school or trust?
We know that your Trustees and the DfE need evidentiary assurance of robust operational management, but what happens if you move beyond the 'tick box' view of internal scrutiny? Have you ever explored and discussed how now, with budgets under the microscope, internal scrutiny can have a hugely positive impact on your school or trust?
At Keystone Knowledge we often talk about something called 'the art of the possible.' It means going beyond how things are done now and pushing towards what is possible, exploring and questioning how things can and should be better. It helps the schools and trust we work with develop a clear sense of their aspirations and develops an ethos of going beyond in the way they think about how they manage their schools and trusts to provide better outcomes for pupils. It's a powerful approach.
We wanted to share the top 5 outcomes, from our experience, when you change the narrative around internally scrutiny:
1. A robust internal scrutiny programme drives better outcomes.
We all like to think that everything we do is to the very best of our ability but, in reality, that is impossible. There will always be room for improvement. Recognising that and understanding what those improvements could mean is a great step forward.
Some fundamental questions that you and your team should consider;
- What if improvements helped you to focus your funding in a way that delivers better outcomes for your students?
- What if it identified how you could reduce risk so that your students were safer, and your school or trust is better protected against risk?
- What if it could unlock changes that allowed you to redirect your budget and focus to something you and the team are passionate about achieving?
Now that is starting to sound more exciting right? Setting up robust internal scrutiny means driving improvements and that results in schools and trusts that are on the path to better outcomes for everyone.
2. It reduces risk
We all want our schools to be safe, welcoming and deliver the best outcomes for our students, but risks identified on the trust risk register can stop that from happening.
We know that the DfE expect a risk-based approach to internal scrutiny, but things can go wrong when the risks on the trust's risk register aren't reviewed regularly as risk levels can change.
Much of the assurance around risk can be provided to trustees by the academy's management team. Internal scrutiny provides an extra layer of assurance, where trustees want to obtain an independent perspective on a key risk area, reassurance that the controls described by management are really in place, or just to reassure themselves that the controls in a particular area are in line with sector best practice and changing risk levels are recognised.
A three-year programme of internal scrutiny should provide a deep-dive external review of financial operations and efficiency each year and two further reviews of non-financial areas which change each year meaning you have internal scrutiny across seven areas of your operation. This reduces your risk, gives a level of independent assurance, and allows improvement and sector best practice in all seven areas that are reviewed.
3. It recognises great staff performance
How often do your team get recognised for the great work they do in continually providing robust operational management in your school or trust?
The impact of the work they do is felt day in, day out, by your pupils and those connected to your school or trust, but it often goes unrecognised.
A programme of internal scrutiny is a great opportunity for that work, and high standard of operational management, to be recognised and in turn celebrated. Having high performance in a team leads the way with regard to expected standards and practices and can become a benchmark for others.
4. It celebrates organisations that are being well run.
The bigger picture that often emerges from a good internal scrutiny programme is that robust operational practices are often the result of a great leadership team and strongly embedded positive cultures.
High performing teams who embrace challenge and improvement and who are non-negotiable on poor performance and compliance often use internal scrutiny as a barometer of culture and continuous improvement.
5. It results in real, actionable improvements.
Regarding continuous improvement, what is internal scrutiny without realistic, actionable improvements?
If your current programme is not being run by a team that have worked in schools, this gap may be the reason your internal scrutiny is not doing its job and giving value to your team.
Make sure that your programme is delivering the roadmap that helps your team to deliver operational excellence. Being able to deliver operational excellence in your school and trust will have a positive impact on the outcomes for your pupils. What a legacy!
All Keystone Knowledge internal scrutiny programmes are run by consultants with significant experience within schools at the highest levels meaning a pragmatic and experienced based approach to internal scrutiny together with bringing the latest sector thinking into your programme.
So, take some time to review your internal scrutiny programme. Is it working as hard as it could be to drive operational excellence?
By changing the narrative now around internal scrutiny, recognising these five key benefits we have the opportunity to embrace 'the art of the possible' in relation to operational effectiveness, resulting the best outcomes for our pupils. It's powerful stuff.
Author: Stephen Mitchell.
About the Author:
Stephen Mitchell is the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Keystone Knowledge and is an experienced leader, with a finance and organisational leadership background, who enjoys going beyond the numbers, and adding real value to an organisation.
He set up Keystone Knowledge at the beginning of 2020 to support schools and academy trusts to improve the quality of management in order to ensure that children get the best possible deal and education. Keystone work with a range of schools/trusts, large and small, in a true partnership approach where we can make a difference.
He was, until recently, CEO of a growing 5 school Trust in the Midlands, with a secondary school in the top 1% of schools in the country for Progress 8 measures. He has previously worked as Chief Operating Officer for a multi academy trust which runs 17 schools, with a turnover of approx. £100m, 2,500 staff, and serves 18,000 children.
Stephen qualified as an accountant in 2004 and has gained an MBA, with a thesis focussing on improving the quality of management in education.
A Fellow of the Chartered Managers Institute (CMgr FCMI), a Fellow of the Institute or School Business Leadership (FISBL), a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (FRSA) and a Member of the Institute of Directors (MIoD). He is also a Professional Associate of the Chartered College of Teaching.
Stephen is also an accredited trainer and speaker for the UN, EU, World Bank, and the UK Government, having delivered award winning capacity building projects around the world. He also writes for industry publications on a regular basis as well as delivering seminars and workshops on a range of operations management topics to both regional and national conferences.
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