Business continuity for schools: more than a plan

The Department for Education places a requirement on all maintained schools and academy trusts to have a business continuity plan in place, however there is little or no explanation as to what business continuity is, how it needs to managed, who is responsible and why it is important to have business continuity in schools. 

We recently conducted market research into the current business continuity capabilities in primary and secondary schools, speaking with over a 1,000 school staff across the UK. 

We were interested in finding out how well business continuity was understood and managed in schools, given not only the regulatory obligation to have a business continuity plan in place but also the importance of business continuity and the disastrous impacts that poorly managed business continuity can cause in any organisation.

Whilst most schools do have a business continuity plan in place, a large proportion of schools have little to no business continuity management in place.  This appears to be borne out of a lack of understanding of what business continuity actually is.

In order for a business continuity plan to be effective, business continuity must be effectively managed.  This means a holistic and ongoing management and governance process that establishes, implements, operates, monitors, reviews, maintains and improves business continuity.

Although we spoke to schools who had not reviewed their plan in several years, generally we found that schools would review their plan once a year – which generally amounted to updating contact details.  But this is not enough – overall school strategies and objectives change which will shape the plans you have in place.  The surrounding environment, the threats your school faces, the suppliers you use, priorities, technology and expectations all change. 

In addition to this very few schools have validated their plans through testing, other than the usual evacuation drills. The Good Practice Guidelines 2013, the guide to global good practise in business continuity states:

‘An organisation’s business continuity capability cannot be considered reliable until it has been exercised.  No matter how well designed a business continuity strategy or business continuity plan appears to be, robust and realistic exercises will identify issues and assumptions that require attention.’

Schools come under intense scrutiny from media, parents and the wider public during an incident and therefore it is imperative to have a robust, working plan in place. By identifying any issues or fails in a test environment, remedial action can be taken to ensure that when the plan is invoked during an actual incident it will be effective to minimise disruption and support staff in returning the school to normal operations.

Educate also discovered that in some schools there was confusion as to who was ultimately responsible for business continuity in their schools.

In one multi-academy trust we found that schools believed that their Trust would provide guidance, support and produce their business continuity plan.  We spoke with the Trust’s business director who advised us that each school were responsible for their own plan.

In several schools we found that key staff, including some business managers (who are usually delegated responsibility for business continuity planning), did not know what a business continuity plan was or whether or not they had a business continuity plan in place at their school.

Other staff within schools were unaware that they had roles and responsibilities within the business continuity plan.

Educate found that those schools who did not understand the value of business continuity, were more likely to see business continuity as a box ticking exercise, low on the priority list with very limited if no business continuity management in place.

Understanding why business continuity is so important is can be achieved by considering the impacts on a school if there is not an effective business continuity plan in place during an incident:

  • No one aware of their roles and responsibilities during an incident causing confusion and panic
  • Staff having to make critical decisions in a highly stressful environment
  • Negative media attention for failing to prepare
  • Increased recovery times impacting on pupils education
  • Angry parents demanding answers and accountability

Above are just a few reasons as to why business continuity should be seen as critical and an integral part of school strategy.

If you’d like to find out more about business continuity or would like a review of your current business continuity capabilities, then please contact me on 020 3411 1080 or lydiagoodwin@educate.co.uk.