Sarah Beaumont, Head of Governance, asks if we all need to adopt a policy on corporate social responsibility.
A corporate social responsibility policy is not a statutory policy for schools and academies to adopt. However, when I recently led on developing such a policy for our organisation, I discovered how valuable it is.
Hand on heart, I have never worked for an organisation like NPW - The Education Space. Before I joined, I knew it as a company that described itself as “ethical”. The value placed on moral principles made me sure that this was somewhere I wanted to work. Now part of the team, from the inside I know that these values are lived.
Each day I enter the office, I feel a welcoming warmth that runs through everything: in the greeting, I receive at reception, in the attitude of colleagues, even in the very fabric of the building from the facilities provided to the pictures on the walls.
There is a palpable culture where staff are obviously committed to their school and academy clients: staff who don’t clock-watch, staff that are supportive of one another, and staff who prioritise their own well-being. This caring attitude reflects in their approach to everything they do.
But how would you describe this culture in a way that can be shared with staff, members, customers and suppliers, and is it really necessary to do so?
As Company Secretary, I recently led on a full review of the organisation’s policies, and, at the Board’s bidding, led on the drafting of a policy on corporate social responsibility.
I began this as an administrative exercise but very soon found that it was far more than that. I was creating a description of a desirable ethical culture, underpinning the way in which all business is conducted, and something concrete to which people could commit.
Who we are and what we do
I began to draft the policy by setting out who we are and what we do: a not-for-profit schools-owned company, working exclusively for the benefit of its members. I captured the company’s purpose: ‘preparing children for the future’, with a mission: ‘to be the lead provider of cost-effective services to schools’.
I included the company’s values:
‘In their shoes’ – always have the child at the centre of what we do,
‘Work as one’ – be ethical with our suppliers, partners and schools,
‘Find a way’ – adopt a growth mindset as our business model, and
‘Be passionate’ – recruit people that care about children.
Looking after Employees
Judging how ethical an organisation is as an employer is a study in how it treats its staff. Here, I pulled together information from various different places to include fair pay, staffing policies and procedures, the organisation’s attitude towards nurturing diversity and mutual respect, how the organisation invests in its staff through training and development, how communication is conducted to gather staff views and act upon them, and how staff are supported in terms of their social needs, well-being and mental health.
Looking after Customers
Measuring the corporate social responsibility of a commercial organisation in the market is a study in how it treats its customers. Here, I looked at how the company prides itself in nurturing strong relationships with its customers, how it ensures value for money, and how it consults its stakeholders in order to ensure that services meet needs.
In our case as a schools company, 51% of the Company’s Directors are senior leaders in schools, and their views and priorities feed into the objectives of the company to shape its services. Therefore, the organisation can be confident that its services are designed by schools to be provided for schools.
Protecting the Environment
We all have a wider responsibility to our future in terms of how we protect and interact with the environment.
Within this context, I considered the bigger things: how our organisation’s procurement policy favours sourcing ethical products and equipment wherever possible, how we consider our carbon footprint and how energy-efficient our building is, how we take every effort to encourage a culture where ecological issues are considered during office use, home working, and travelling, how we manage waste, how we reduce our printing. And I considered the smaller things: how we switch off lights in unused rooms, how we fix a dripping tap, how we walk or cycle when we can.
Equally, how an organisation interacts with its suppliers should reflect its values, for example through ethical sourcing, rigorous monitoring of third-party contracts to ensure that customers receive a first-class service, protected partnership agreements where services are developed and delivered jointly. This extends to the way in which contracts are awarded to help support and strengthen the local community.
How we support and engage with the community was my final focus. As a schools-owned company, all profits are invested in the company for the benefit of its members. But how do we contribute locally?
Our organisation participates in government work-experience and kick-start initiatives, providing work placements for students, and offering opportunities to those on Universal Credit to help them out of poverty.
All our employees are encouraged to offer their time and expertise on a voluntary basis to other organisations aligned with our own values. All managers are encouraged to become a governor or trustee of an educational organisation or a charity. We also communicate with local people to engage them in community activities such as school governance.
We offer a comprehensive training programme, including practical courses in first aid, which are offered to all schools in the local community. All our staff receive safeguarding training, which raises awareness of issues relating to the safety of adults and children, frameworks to protect vulnerable people, and how to report a concern.
And we nurture a culture of being kind and considerate to others around us and to be good neighbours.
Similarly, there will be great things that you do in your own organisation. To draft and adopt a corporate social responsibility policy is a great way of collating these all into one place, as a statement of commitment, to be communicated and celebrated. I would suggest that, though it is not statutory to have one, drafting a corporate social responsibility policy is a valuable exercise in capturing your resolve to do good