As regulatory obligations on schools increase over time, tracking workforce compliance and accreditation is an increasingly critical part of a principal’s job.
For a school, being non-compliant can risk its reputation, ability to secure future funding, and in some cases, there’s the possibility of jail. Despite this, some principals are inadvertently exposing themselves to penalty, simply because they are so busy and keeping track of the various regulations and requirements that can be a complex, and often time-consuming, process.
Throughout her career, Megan Kavanagh, a partner in Colin Biggers & Paisley’s employment and safety team, has seen first-hand the consequences that a school’s non-compliance with important compliance obligations can have, and says paying greater attention to this critical part of the job has never been more important.
TE: In what ways are schools’ compliance obligations changing?
It might be easier to ask how schools' compliance obligations have stayed the same. Schools are challenged by the sheer weight of regulation - from financial compliance and safety, to employment, anti-discrimination, property and contractor issues. The scope of regulation increases every year. Many schools are currently challenged by the prospect of enterprise agreement negotiations, after negotiations were postponed because of COVID. Recent increases to Award rates mean that union and employee expectation of rate increases will be higher than many schools will have budgeted for. This will place a significant financial strain on both public and private school budgets.
TE: You say independent schools in Queensland should undergo an urgent review of their policies to ensure compliance with legislative requirements. Why this sector, and state?
I'm based in Queensland so was speaking to my clients in this state, but the recommendation is not limited to Queensland. Changes to regulation have been made across Australia and those changes apply to school leadership and school boards, as well as individual teachers and educators. At all levels, school leaders in Australia should be mapping their obligations at board, senior leadership, educator and the administration level to ensure policies and procedures reflect and discharge those obligations. In addition, schools must commit to regular and meaningful training so people understand those obligations and what is required to meet those expectations.
TE: Drawing from your experience in this important space, how can schools ensure that written processes are consistent with regulatory criteria and other legislative requirements?
The first step is developing a genuine understanding of the regulatory framework at various levels of your school. I call this mapping. Once the mapping is done, you review policies, procedures and training to ensure that those documents and processes reflect the mapped obligations and tell people how to discharge those obligations. Finally, there must be a regular system of training and review to ensure that compliance obligations continue to be understood and discharged.
TE: To what extend do you see burgeoning/unsustainable workloads impacting on principals’ ability to meet compliance obligations in a timely and efficient manner, and is help out there for principals in this difficult position?
Most principals, as professional educators and administrators, understand their role. There's little complaint about the increased regulation where the purpose is designed to improve outcomes for children, for staff and for the community. Where frustration can arise is around regulation which duplicates obligations or where regulation is not clear and consistent. Mapping can assist to digest the range of obligations and to ensure constancy in the response. Similarly, developing close relationships with regulators and government can assist to clarify those matters which may seem to be inconsistent or create duplication.