The recent need to manage schools remotely has shown how vital it is for schools and trusts to consider and plan for a variety of disruptive scenarios.
What is organisational continuity?
Organisational continuity can be seen as a form of risk management. It typically involves three steps – preventative controls, risk mitigation and contingency planning – and focuses strongly on the notion that ‘prevention is better than a cure’.
What should a plan include?
While plans will need to be tailored to an individual setting(s), there are several key areas that you should try to cover in your plan. Indeed, some of these areas may also have their own associated plans. Here’s a snapshot of what to consider:
Tthis will include the existence and relevance of the plan(s), when it was last reviewed, where the plan itself is stored and who has access.
For example, who has the authority to declare an incident and who’s in charge of leading each phase of activity? A flow chart would be useful to help quickly navigate the above decisions.
For example, a health pandemic or a biological or environmental threat, mass staff unavailability, gas/water/ electric failure etc.
Including how likely it is for the issue to happen, the impact it could have on students, staff, safeguarding, operations, reputation, finances, and actions required if an incident occurs. Actions are then typically split into three stages; response, continuity and recovery.
Tese might be incident assessment forms, event and decision logs, or pro forma letters to parents – having some documents ready to use will save time in the moment.
Within the wide range of contingency planning that your school or trust will undertake, you should make sure to factor in technology at every stage, as it forms a vital part of school operations.
How can tech help to increase resilience?
Many schools and trusts are realising that using IT applications and storage that are physically located on servers and devices on the school site are not a viable option anymore.
Moving to IT systems that are located remotely, or cloud-based, mitigates the impact of a physical site becoming inaccessible, perhaps due to health reasons or natural disaster.
For example, using online collaboration and communication tools, such as those available in G-Suite or Office 365, are available over the internet as soon you log in, meaning staff can continue working from anywhere. It’s an effective way of preventing on-site incidents from disrupting operations.
This is similarly the case with the school’s Management Information System (MIS). During recent closures, those using a locally-hosted MIS may have found that they needed to have a machine on the school site switched on and logged in to remotely access the school’s system.
However, as well as creating a number of possible security risks, this approach also requires a member of staff to physically travel into the school to access data and resolve issues.
Schools using a cloud-based MIS won’t have experienced these complications, as users can log on from home safely and securely, using any device. When leaders needed instant access to vital information (such as student, parent and staff details) they could access and input data, no matter where they were.
Also, with schools needing to adhere to changing government guidance, they needed an MIS that could adapt equally quickly. Cloud MIS providers were able to roll-out new features, or reporting functionality, at a click of a button as policy changed, saving already stretched schools a big headache.
Technology is just one part of the continuity puzzle, but it can have a big impact on your resilience. If your school or trust hasn’t already got an organisational continuity plan in place, or your current plan needs reviewing, now is the time.
As this year has shown, you can never predict the future, but advanced preparation can help to mitigate the disruption caused by unforeseen events.
Richard Harley is the CEO of ScholarPack. The advice in this article is based on information in ScholarPack’s guide ‘Ensuring the resilience of your trust: A guide to organisational continuity’, developed in partnership with Chirs Kirk, Education Consultant and MAT Expert at CJK Associates.