Moving Beyond Compliance
Keeping up with the changes to school and trust legal and regulatory compliance can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Changes to the Academy Trust Handbook (formerly the Academy Financial Handbook) and other requirements can feel like they are never-ending and it's often a relief to be able to say: 'yes, we're compliant with the latest regulations.' But is merely being compliant really enough?
Why being compliant matters
Compliance takes many forms and covers aspects from regulations around providing parents with information on what you are teaching their children and the reporting of how money is being spent to the health and safety laws that apply to a school setting.
Some of the rules and regulations are designed to assist your stakeholders, whether that be the government, your parents, or the local community, in holding you accountable for how you run a public service. The regulations help you to be transparent, providing pertinent information to those stakeholders and publicly holding you accountable to the Nolan Principals of public life.
Those 'musts' in the ATH such as providing information on your website about any conflict of interest that trustees or governors have may seem like an added annoyance, but the conflict of interest report helps the public have faith in those responsible for your school or trust. Equally, reporting on the number of staff members who earn over £100,000 may feel like a pointless exercise, but it increases transparency to stakeholders as to what you are spending large sums of public money on.
Other laws and regulations are designed to keep your pupils and students, staff and visitors safe. Safeguarding practices are an obvious example. Safer recruitment, reporting processes and procedures and regular staff training all help create a safe environment for children and adults alike.
Testing your fire alarms and keeping a log of the activity, asbestos maps and the myriad of other seemingly small activities that running a school building entails are all part of the more comprehensive health and safety picture designed to ensure that schools are safe places for teaching and learning.
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?
Compliance at its most basic level is simply following directions. In a school or trust setting, it's meeting the minimum expected standards to ensure transparency and safety. Compliance should be the beginning of the process, not the end.
Take the example of publishing the conflict of interest report. What if it's not just about being transparent with stakeholders but it also aids trustees and governors in really considering where their conflicts of interests lie and how that affects the decisions they are making, therefore helping the decisions be entirely in the interest of the children in the school or trust?
What if making public the number of staff members earning over £100,000 isn't just about public transparency but also prompt trusts to consider the value for money they are getting from investing in these resources?
Or, concerning financial compliance, what if we move beyond benchmarking 'because we have to' and consider ICFP as the basis for delivering better educational outcomes as resources can be manged more effectively for children.
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. 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.
There is something to be said for reframing how we view the regulations we comply with. We should be raising our eyes up from the day-to-day compliance work, looking to the art of the possible and what best practice looks like.
I don't know about you, but I know I want to work somewhere that strives for best practice rather than just doing what needs to be done.
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