Schools will typically look at HR outsourcing for reasons of cost, in that they believe they’ll save money, or compliance – because they don’t have people with sufficient knowledge of staffing regulations. If you’re a very small school and lack in-house expertise, the size of your staff could make outsourcing your HR relatively cost effective.
In my own experience, however, perhaps 1% of the HR cases I’ve dealt with were ‘messy’, in the sense that I had to liaise with an employment lawyer. You do need to manage risk, and avoid expensive tribunals by ensuring that you’re compliant and not breaking any laws – but at the same time, you shouldn’t automatically assume that having an internal HR function ‘is expensive’.
This might lead you to paying someone to contract manage your entire HR function, and if there’s no one in your organisation who knows what that contract should be delivering and whether the provider is performing sufficiently well, the function becomes disconnected from your organisation and you’re just making a bigger issue for yourself in future.
Heads and governing bodies can make decisions regarding oversight of their HR, such as transferring service level agreements while payroll often stays with the LA, but that requires brokering between the two, and heads will likely decide against it. I know of one headteacher who decided to do just that, and thought it best for the LA to not know what was going on. He came unstuck very quickly.
Heads should be aware that if they’re paying for an outsourcing service, that service can inadvertently be perceived as being paid to do the head’s bidding. There should be someone based in the school who does the ‘softer’ side of HR, who can link local knowledge to legal processes. Otherwise, heads can risk undermining what they’re trying to achieve. Having someone with local knowledge – of both your school context and your staff – liaise with outsource providers such as payroll and employment lawyers is critical, and also a great way to ‘grow your own’.
It’s important to remember that HR is people. If you’re looking at outsourcing more than just your transactional HR – ie paying people – bear in mind that nobody will care as much about ‘your people’ as you will, because you’re the employer.
There’s something to be said for separating some parts of your HR system from others. You don’t need a CIPD qualification to perform basic level HR. You do, however, need to be able to speak to people, be empathetic and sensitive, and respect people’s confidentiality. Your people are your greatest asset, and how you look after them can be a big differentiator when it comes to recruitment and retention.
Laura Williams is a former MAT chief operations officer and school business manager, and the founder of LJ Business Consultancy.