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In today’s bulletin, Charlie looks at the importance of business continuity plans in schools and discusses some of the events that schools should be planning for.

Over the last few weeks, I have been working with an Academy Trust that has a number of primary and secondary schools, and I thought this week I would share what I have learned from doing this work. First of all, when working within education, you must look at the threats. Schools face a wide variety of threats which don’t all fit neatly into the box of business continuity. Schools should have business continuity plans in place, as we know that any disruption to children’s education can have a lasting impact. In my workshops last week, we discussed that more than a 10% loss of teaching time would have an adverse effect. I have read articles stating that even a day or two of lost schooling, especially during the height of COVID, has an effect on a child’s education.

If we look at business continuity, then there is the threat of the loss of buildings, which are essential for the delivery of education. Children can’t, in the same way as adults, work from home if their building is not available. Some can, but teachers and pupils are not geared up for this. Schools do regularly burn down. I am not sure whether the loss of school buildings is more common than the chance of a normal building burning down, but perhaps we notice it more, and it is more likely to be in the media if it is a school. In addition to classrooms, which are perhaps reasonably easy to replicate, especially at secondary level, schools have specialist classrooms such as those for food and technology, technical and music rooms, science labs, as well as large spaces for PE, assemblies, and theatrical productions. Besides the ‘normal’ threats of fire and flood, both internal and external, there are issues around the maintenance of the building. Some schools are poorly maintained, old, with obsolete facilities such as catering and heating, and may have hazards such as asbestos or RAC. In our business continuity planning, we need to develop strategies for the loss of a whole school building as well as part of the building. We also need to consider the question of losing the facilities within a school, such as a specialist classroom, catering facilities, as well as utilities.

Looking at the loss of suppliers and people, the risk is a lot lower and not so impactful as the loss of a building. Schools often have to use supply teachers or staff, so there is a ready pool of people who can replace staff if they are not available. The loss of a supplier could be more problematic, especially if they supply maintenance services or catering, but temporary services can be quickly acquired, although there would be an increase in their cost. I am still trying to understand the impact of the loss of IT on a school’s operation. There is a lot of information held on students, especially concerning safeguarding and medical conditions, but I am unsure whether these need to be regularly accessed on IT or if the information is accessed periodically. Lack of IT could lead to a possible lack of reporting on various government statistics, but if done manually, these could be re-entered into the system and wouldn’t stop the delivery of education to students.

If you are planning business continuity for schools, you also need to look at two other areas which complement business continuity: crisis management and emergency response. All schools, as part of their health and safety provision, will have a fire evacuation plan, and this needs to be regularly practiced. What I have seen is that once all students and staff have been evacuated to the fire evacuation point, there is little planning beyond this. If there is a fire in a school building on a freezing, rainy, winter’s day, those who have evacuated will not be able to stay at the evacuation point for long before they get cold. Small children are not good in the cold and wet. Schools need to have a ‘place of safety’ where students and staff can be in shelter before they can go home or are picked up by their parents. The wait could be for hours. For some schools, there is an obvious place of safety with a nearby church, leisure centre, or another school, but in rural schools, there may not be any appropriate place. Fire evacuation training needs to include the full end-to-end process of getting pupils and staff home, not just getting to the fire evacuation point and accounting for all those who have been evacuated.

In the UK, unlike the USA, we do not have the same threat of a school shooter, but there is a need to think through the security of entry into the school premises and to be able to enact a school lockdown. Lockdown may need to be enacted for parental disputes with the school or external people to the school wanting to harm a student in the school. Martyn’s Law, pending UK-wide legislation, will place a requirement on those responsible for certain publicly accessible locations, including schools, to consider the threat from terrorism and implement appropriate and proportionate mitigation measures. The law will require further planning in schools for both implementing physical security and planning for the response to an incident.

If there is a death or serious injury in a school involving students or staff, then those running the school should have a plan of how they would deal with it. This needs to include the immediate response such as phoning the emergency services but also how the incident is dealt with sensitively over the longer term. Included within a plan could be who and how to tell the school community about the event, how to manage spontaneous shrines and flowers, and how to deal with anniversaries of the event. As well as having a plan for an accident on the school premises, there is also the need for an incident plan off-premises, especially during a school-organised trip, either for sport in the UK or abroad, or a residential visit.

Schools also need to have a crisis plan. This could be at the academy trust level or for individual schools. Events such as the religious education teacher from Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire who had to go into hiding after protests which accused him of showing pictures of the Prophet Muhammad have to be managed sensitively, appropriately, and with fine judgment. There have been other protests at schools over local school issues: either new school rules, teaching on subjects such as relationship and sex, or wider issues such as the closing of Barclay Primary School in East London after pro-Palestinian protests outside the school. Culture war issues can very quickly flare up into parent, local community, and student protests outside a school, and school or academy trusts have to have crisis plans and training for dealing with them.

Any issue, incident, or crisis around young people is more likely to be in the news, so there will be greater scrutiny of the response and the planning for the event. Planning for an event and then training and exercising staff in a wide variety of different threat is key to protecting those in schools.

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