Guidelines for school risk assessment and management... (c.2000)
Risk assessment and management
Schools are under increasingly difficult pressures - legal and political, insufficient funding, technological change, even more demanding parental expectations - any of which could undermine a school's critical brand value and viability almost overnight. Yet many schools continue to operate without the risk management policies and oversight that most other businesses now consider essential. Moving towards more student and technology centred education practices will also change and potentially increase the role of risk management in schools.
Check our full risk & crisis management guidelines for school leaders or consider the commonsense risk management principles below:
Risk Management Principles
Avoid knee jerk reactions (and overreactions) by a systematic approach
ESTABLISHING APPROPRIATE RISK management policies is best done away from a crisis, and of course is best done before a crisis hits. In this way balance and perspective can be attained, offering the best chance that the full gamut of risks will be considered.
The following provides commonsense principles for a school community to use to manage its risks:
- Identify the school's current business and future aims
- Identify the risks to the school's business by three converging paths:
- Open brainstorming (following an appropriate introduction) of key school community stakeholders (including representation from parents, students, the school's PR firm, financial controller, counselor etc as well as council members, heads of departments and junior teachers)
- A structured investigation to identifying possible hurdles to the school's future aims
- A consideration of the relevance of recent known risk incidents (and near-misses) in the industry
- Group similar risks identified from the above process into a structure that is meaningful to the school's board/council and that facilitates clear risk ownership - note that it is likely that a number of strategic and tactical opportunities will also probably have been identified
- Ask the board and principal to rate these risks using a simple scale such as:
- Critical and Urgent to school's survival/success - with issues and points needing immediate response
- Critical to school's survival/success
- Important to the school's success
- Less important to the school's success
- Confirm the grouping/rating of these risks with the larger stakeholder group, inviting short written responses if an aspect appears to have been lost, and edit the risk assessment accordingly
- Consider the Critical and Urgent risks at board/council level, assessing whether:
- Current controls should be improved
- Current reporting can be improved (including generating targeted risk indicators)
- Current formal delegations to the principal are adequate to allow immediate action - these need to be demonstrable to allow clear accountability and action in stress situations
- Current training (including crisis management response) is adequate
- Consider the Critical risks at board/council level, in a similar manner, but with recognition that these are likely to be the strategic risks that the board/council is responsible for directly
- Establish responsibility and reporting delegations for the Important risks to the appropriate school staff member - this encourages growth in the school's executives, and helps engender a responsible risk culture throughout the school staff as opposed to a "that's not my concern" ethos
- Where appropriate, establish and test business continuity/crisis management procedures using a layered approach starting broad-brush with a few senior people around a table and progressively becoming more specific and detailed with involvement of all affected people (even if only to advise them) - and leading to the construction and maintainance of a school crisis management kit (see below)
- Establish a school community wide charter of conduct that includes a behavior/ goal of seeking the best long term interests of the school and its community, and build it into induction training for staff and at a lower level for students and parents - this both states what is expected of staff and students etc and what they can expect of the school
- Periodically review the risk assessment and response
School Crisis Kit
A maintainable and accessible emergency kit for schools suddenly thrown into a crisis
A USEFUL FOCUS point for schools preparing for a possible emergency situation is the preparation of, and then testing with, a crisis materials. A balance needs to be established between including everything anyone thinks of, and the work and sustainable motivation needed to ensure that the material is kept up-to-date.
Some ideas for school emergency kits include:
- a list of student names, addresses and contact details and including known medical conditions
- a list of teacher/staff names, addresses and contact details including mobile phones
- a list of local emergency authority contact details
- a list of contact details for district education authorities where relevant
- detailed blueprints for the school buildings
- multiple copies of simplified building and floor plans showing evacuation routes
- keys to all doors (this should be considered in the choice of locking systems for the school)
- information about how to cut off electricity, gas, phone and other utilities
- a list of contact details for the different utilities
- closest locations for a helicopter landing
- details about agreed meeting points for emergency authority response
- checklists for handling common emergency events such as bomb threats, fires, physical violence
A procedure for keeping this material up-to-date needs to be sustained. This is normally best diarised for regular attention with motivation best retained by actual use in crisis management testing.
A second copy of this emergency kit (or relevant parts of it) should also be kept off-site.
The above steps are not a quick fix. Nor will they be quickly put aside and forgotten. They are a responsible and cost-effective means of incorporating and demonstrating a risk culture to balance and protect the other aims of a school.