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Risk management guide: Independent schools

Published: 18/05/2021

This information was true and accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing. Please visit the HSE website for further guidance and to download one of their risk management templates.

Let’s face it - we’re never going to be able to cover everything that needs to go into your independent school’s risk management strategy in this whistle-stop guide.

That being said, we have aimed to summarise the key points you’ll need to consider when updating your independent school’s risk management plan. You’ll also find links to some useful resources, as well as some extra tips around the types of insurance you might need to protect your school, pupils and fee-payers.

Here’s a quick summary of a bursar’s responsibility when it comes to risk management planning:

Risk management responsibilities

As a bursar one of your key responsibilities to staff, pupils and parents is to protect them from harm.

Not only is this the honourable thing to do as the school’s trusted advisor, but it’s also your legal obligation as part of the government’s Independent School Standards guidance to ensure everyone is safe and that wellbeing is promoted.

This is done primarily by identifying and managing potential risks to pupil and staff welfare in a formalised risk management strategy. This mitigation plan needs to encompass all elements of school life - so if you’re the bursar of a boarding school, for example, you may have additional safeguarding risks to consider.

It’s also important that you keep the Local Education Authority or governing body up-to-date with any changes to your risk management policy or any new measures you put in place.

These are some of the key areas that should be reviewed as part of your school’s risk management guidance to staff, pupils and parents.

Pupil supervision

What’s the morning arrival and sign in procedure? What are your minimum staff to pupil supervision ratios?

There are a million and one things to consider when it comes to ensuring pupils are safeguarded at all times in respect of government legislation, especially if it’s a boarding school where supervision needs to be round the clock – and every activity and interaction will need to be listed out in detail and accounted for in your school’s risk management policy.

Visit the Department for Education’s statutory guidance publications for schools and local authorities for more information.

You’ll also need to consider third party risks regarding pupil supervision and interaction when arranging your independent school’s employers’ and public liability insurance, and certain staff members may need to be DBS checked – you can read more about this below.

You will also need professional indemnity insurance, which protects against legal defence costs and expenses that could be incurred if your school is alleged to have provided inadequate advice or services - as well as providing cover for any damages or costs that may be awarded.

All of these covers (and more) can usually be protected against under one combined independent schools insurance policy, designed to protect against the commercial risks involved with running a school.

School trips

Now that COVID-19 guidelines are starting to relax and schools are beginning to book school trips again, you’ll also need to include this in your risk assessment strategy - including a separate risk assessment for each individual trip your teachers have planned.

Some of the things to include in a school trip risk assessment are:

  • assigning group leaders and deputies;
  • what group leaders’ responsibilities are and how they will support the risk assessment process (such as pulling together health and safety guidelines or conducting off-site visits prior to the trip);
  • the ratio of adults to pupils on the trip;
  • the age range of pupils and whether they have any special needs or medical requirements;
  • guidance for pupils to ensure they act responsibly on the trip and follow the instructions of any supervisory adults;
  • guidance for what to do if a pupil is withdrawn from a trip, and how to ensure the pupil still fulfils the learning objective;
  • fire and emergency procedures

You should also explore whether the school or individual pupils require additional insurance in place to cover their trip, such as travel insurance, personal possessions insurance or personal accident insurance.

Speak to one of our expert education account managers for a specialist quote.



Schools constantly have visitors coming and going - from tradesmen to peripatetic teachers to prospective parents.

But it’s also a legal requirement to make sure you have an external visitors policy to ensure your pupils (and staff) are protected at all times.

This has also become a lot more complex of late with social distancing measures in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools, and therefore this will also need to form part of your updated risk management strategy.

Read the government’s full operational guidance for schools relating to COVID-19.

However it’s not just on-site visitors that need to be considered as part of your social-distancing guidance – all of your foot traffic and pupil / staff interaction on-site needs to be factored in as well.

For example, how will you minimise the risk of interaction as pupils or staff move between classes? Many schools have adopted a one classroom approach, where pupils stay put and teachers move between lessons to reduce the amount of people in the corridors.

Whichever social-distancing solutions you choose, they’ll need to be outlined in your risk management guidance and shared with on-site visitors, pupils, staff and parents.

As your school starts to re-establish its wider extracurricular activities, we can support with COVID-19 specific risk assessments via our online risk management platform. Speak to one of our specialist account managers for more information.

Fire and emergencies

This is an obvious one, but it’s worth a mention as it’s a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) fire legislationto ensure procedures are in place for your school to reduce the likelihood of fire.

This includes maintaining fire detection and alarm systems and ensuring staff and pupils are familiar with emergency evacuation procedures – as well as keeping these procedures up to date.

Read the Department for Communities and Local Government’s full guide to fire safety risk assessments for educational premises.

As a bursar, it’s also your responsibility to protect the financial interests of the school, and so you may need to consider arranging building and/or contents insurance for any assets that the school owns or is financially responsible for (for example, under a lease agreement).

Hiring staff

Bursars and department heads have many responsibilities, including ensuring the suitability of all staff to undertake designated roles. This applies to all teaching staff, including full-time, temporary, peripatetic or off-site teachers that work with pupils in another school, as well as maintenance and hospitality staff.

Recruitment procedures should also be carried out in line with government legislation, which could include carrying out DBS and enhanced criminal record checks (if applicable), checks on identity, medical fitness, right to work in the UK and the person’s qualifications (where appropriate).

All new staff members should also receive guidance on risk assessments and other specific areas as part of their induction training, and make sure this is refreshed on an annual basis.

Read the government’s Staffing and Employment Advice for Schools.


Management of hazardous substances and equipment

You’re probably getting tired of hearing this, but all schools have a legal responsibility to ensure they comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

Whilst this guidance applies to all UK employers generally, schools have a wider responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their pupils and staff - including managing the risks associated with controlling hazardous substances and equipment.

For example, if your school has wood working equipment for D.T, paint for art or sewing machines for textiles then you will be required to comply with COSHH regulations. Even flowers and bulbs can cause allergic reactions, so you’ll need to brief science teachers as part of their training to carry out risk assessments for any planned science experiments.

Mitigating risks outside of health and safety

There are a number of risk areas relating to independent schools that don’t always directly concern health and safety, but that also need to be considered as part of your wider risk management strategy.

This includes things like:

  • Financial risks
  • Reputational risks
  • Terrorism, including the prevention of fundamentalism and extremism
  • Security and safeguarding, including against cyber threats
  • Pupils’ mental wellbeing

Essentially, if something could go wrong or there is even the slightest possibility that harm could be caused – be it physical, reputational or financial - it needs to be accounted for in your school’s risk management strategy.

Part of this commercial risk management plan could include having a combined insurance solution in place for your school to mitigate financial, reputational and third party liability risks, including covers such as cyber liability, public and employers’ liability, business interruption, professional indemnity and directors’ and officers’, risk management, buildings and contents, motor fleet, private medical insurance for key staff and more.

Speak to one of our specialist account managers to find out more about risk management and commercial insurance for independent schools.

Insurance for independent schools, pupils and fee payers

With over 55 years’ experience in the education community, we’ll help you add value to your school’s offering with a range of customisable insurance packages for fee-payers, with specialist policies for personal accident, personal possessions and fees coverage following the loss of a parent or fee-payer.

Not only that, but you’ll also receive expert support and advice for your commercial insurance needs, with a dedicated account manager who will work with you to find the solution that’s right for your school.

Calculate your independent school’s cyber risk here.

Find out more about independent schools insurance and get a quote.

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