Why private schools should take a long, hard look at themselves

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty

Regulation is an increasing challenge for schools in all sectors, including the independent sector. Where 20 years ago regulations were minor requirements for schools, now they have hundreds of regulations with which they must comply, or face the risk of sanctions – or even closure. This is where a regime of self-reflection and assessment can really come into its own. A school which competently self-assesses need not fear the threat of regulatory inspection, because they are pre-empting and mirroring the inspection process internally and are therefore always ahead of the game. The fallout from regulation breaches is considerable – as well as the financially measurable penalties, there is the far less measurable impact of increased staff workload, reputational harm and possible damage to staff/pupil morale to consider.

It is increasingly puzzling in the current fiscal climate that so few independent schools around the UK and Europe buy into the idea of holistic self-assessment to help them stay abreast of their regulatory obligations while increasing their performance levels in all aspects of their schools. Quality Scotland recognises the need for this and helps all types of organisations in the establishment of their own self-assessment processes, from educating staff about it right through to setting systematic self-assessment cycles.

Private schools are educational establishments, but they are also businesses, and as such they are all acutely aware of the fact that there is an ever-increasing threat to their cash flow, which presents the most fundamental risk to their survival. No money means no school – because it can lead to inability to meet stakeholder demands, which in turn affects reputation and eventually pupil numbers.

The state education sector is regulated by guidance within the Scottish Government initiative “How Good Is Our School?” (HGIOS), whose latest version was developed jointly by Education Scotland and Quality Scotland as a self-reflection methodology which encourages schools to set up a rigorous self-reflection process around educational goals and objectives. HGIOS is based on the EFQM Excellence Model which looks holistically across an organisation, recognising that every aspect of the organisation has an impact on how well the organisation performs. In reality, schools are no different to any other organisation. They have stakeholders whom they need to satisfy. They have books that they need to balance. They have staff whose output they need to maximise. The nuances of organisations are what differentiate them from each other. Independent schools have a wider set of aspects to consider than state sector, for example, Marketing & PR; Corporate Social Responsibility; Charities Commission considerations; Profitability; and so whilst HGIOS offers good discipline on self-assessment of learning and teaching aspects, the EFQM Excellence Model is a more rounded and realistic type of framework for the private sector to use.

Schools are open to scrutiny from all stakeholders, including current and potential parents, because so much data is collected and published online. Parents expect more for less, and this is exacerbated in the private sector because parents are often paying a sizeable amount of money for their child’s education, over and above their social security contributions. Education is a highly emotive subject – parents are expected to trust the educational experts, and because of increasingly extensive media reporting and social media exposure, many try to seek comfort via checking and hard measures rather than the traditional offer of that trust.

Given the number of plates private sector educational organisations must keep spinning to stay in business, keep on the right side of their various regulatory commitments, and educate the young people in their care, it is easy to see how, without a robust regime of self-assessment, the whole process can become super-stressful. If you are interested in talking to us about how you could potentially alleviate this stress, we can explore various options with you.

Famed management consultant Dr W Edwards Deming stated: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” But it has to be more than that. It has to be about what you do now, what you need to do, what the gap is and how you can bridge the gap. It has to be about how you can be confident your organisation will be successful in the long term. Without this approach to self-assessment, measurements alone are short term and could drive damaging behaviours.

Sara Keane, Account Director, Quality Scotland. Contact Quality Scotland on 0131 225 5765 or visit www.qualityscotland.co.uk to learn how we can help your organisation.