Is being compliant with the ATH enough?


Keeping up to date with legal and regulatory compliance can feel like a full-time job as the changes to the ATH can be never-ending. While it's a relief to be able to say, "we're compliant", is that really enough?

Why being compliant matters

Compliance takes many forms. It covers aspects from regulations around; providing parents with information on what you are teaching their children, reporting how money is being spent, and the health and safety laws that apply to a school setting.

Some of the rules and regulations are meant to assist your stakeholders (DfE, ESFA & trustees) in holding the trust accountable. As the public service, the regulations assist you in being transparent, providing pertinent information to those stakeholders and publicly holding you accountable to the Nolan Principals. The Seven Principles of Public Life are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.

There are some 'absolutes' when it comes to compliance in the ATH, including adding any possible conflicts of interests that trustees or governors onto your website. While this may seem like added 'red tape', it is important that the public can trust the people who run their schools. Reporting on the number of staff who earn over £100,000 may seem intrusive but it improves transparency.

Safeguarding practices are an obvious example of regulations that are designed to keep your pupils and students, staff and visitors safe. Safer recruitment, reporting processes & procedures, and regular staff training all help create a safe environment for children and adults alike.

The laws, rules and regulations to which a school or trust must comply help the school system run fairly, efficiently and safely. However, being compliant should arguably be the minimum standard rather than the end goal.

Going above and beyond compliance

Being compliant with the latest rules and regulations is undoubtedly essential, but is it always enough? In our personal lives, we're surrounded by messages encouraging us to better ourselves. There is an almost constant pressure to strive for healthier bodies, expanded minds, and a financially secure future.

Compliance at its most basic level is simply following directions. In a school or trust, it's meeting the minimum expected standards to ensure transparency and safety. Compliance should be the beginning of the process, not the end. Continuous improvement in our careers means looking for the 'art of the possible' and working towards the top, rather than accepting the minimum needed. Best practice means putting children first and giving them the best possible outcomes.

Take the example of publishing the conflict-of-interest report. What if it's not just about being transparent with stakeholders? It also aids trustees and governors in really considering where their conflicts of interests lie and how that affects the decisions they make, allowing them to put the children at the heart of the decision-making process.

What if making public the number of staff members earning over £100,000 isn't just about public transparency? It could also prompt the trust to consider the value for money they are getting from investing in these resources.

What if we move beyond benchmarking financial compliance 'because we have to' and consider ICFP as the basis for delivering better educational outcomes?

Some of these examples are small things in the grand scheme of compliance, but they demonstrate how school and trust management can be improved by going beyond 'it's on the website, so we're compliant.'

Doing the right thing

As education providers, we wouldn't accept a pupil or student producing the minimum standard in their work. We keep pushing, supporting, and helping them to progress to be the best that they can be. So why should we accept minimum standards in the management of our schools and trusts? By going above and beyond compliance we are pushing ourselves to always do better, to not accept 'we're compliant' as the best we can do, and maximise more of our resources to benefit our children's education.

Although the focus of schools is to educate and foster a lifelong love of learning, there are still aspects of running a school that are similar to running a business. Adopting standards that are already common in other sectors allows schools to squeeze the most out of their budget and shore up their future through tough times ahead.

There is something to be said for reframing how we view the regulations we comply with. We should be raising our eyes from the day-to-day compliance work, looking to the art of the possible and what best practice looks like.

Keystone Knowledge are committed to ensuring every school is compliance and increasing the levels of best practice across the education sector. For more information on our audit and compliance services, click here.  

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