Moores Principal Lawyer Cecelia Irvine-So discusses how schools can use enrolment documents to improve management challenges with parents. Schools frequently find out that their documentation with parents does not equip them to enforce payments, manage complaints or indeed manage unrealistic expectations, she writes.
Many independent schools report the parent body has changed over recent years, and is providing a more complex challenge for them.
This often comes out in:
1. Parents raising grievances and not necessarily following grievance procedures;
2. Parents claiming that discrimination has occurred, or promises of special programs have not been delivered upon; or
3. Parents refuse to pay.
Schools frequently find out that their documentation with parents does not equip them to enforce payments, manage complaints or indeed manage unrealistic expectations.
We advocate the enrolment trifecta model, where each element of the enrolment journey is clearly set out as follows:
1. Enrolment Policy – this is public, appears on the website, and explains the enrolment process. It sets out enrolment priorities and also the school’s obligations with respect to applicants with a disability. It should also contain a privacy notice, which notifies the applicant of what mailing or wait lists they will be placed on, and what communications they should expect as a result.
2. Enrolment terms and conditions – this should only be signed upon enrolment, not application. To sign up on application may result in the agreement being unenforceable at a later time. This document sets out expectations for students. These can include attendance and behaviour requirements and clearly set out out-of-hours activities that students are required to attend. Disciplinary options, including out of hours, should also be canvassed. Importantly, the school needs to set expectations now. If there is no promise of specific academic achievement, include this here. Don’t forget to also include any additional terms and conditions applicable to scholarships, and the implications of a breach – is it termination of the scholarship, repayment or termination of enrolment? These need to be worded correctly and legally so they can be enforced.
3. Parent Code of Conduct. A school needs to equip itself to manage parent behaviour and many enrolment terms and conditions do not permit this. One trap which many schools encounter is having a parent code of conduct, but failing to list implications of a breach. Critically, can the school terminate enrolment of the student? This needs to be covered. Also important are the rights of parents to raise grievances (only via the grievance procedure please), address the school council (or not), abide by school policies and refrain from all threatening and violent behaviour. You might want to include specific provisions regarding the consumption of alcohol or the taking of photos, depending on the prevailing behaviours of the parent body.
Lastly, it is also important that, if the school permits parents to pay outstanding fees under a catch-up plan, this must be clearly documented in an enforceable plan. To omit this step may result in parents who breach such a plan only being required at law to re-commence payments under the plan. Similarly, beware of the parent who thinks they (and every child in the household) is now on a permanent arrangement involving discount or deferral for the length of enrolment.
In our practice, we frequently assist schools with these documents and managing challenging enrolments. As a parent, and board member, at an independent school, I also see the impact on staff the day to day operations at the school of these types of issues.
Contact the author if you have any queries about this article or, questions about reviewing existing documents for an assessment of how they can be improved to allow preferable financial and relationship outcomes.
Cecelia Irvine-So is a Practice Leader of the Corporate Advisory Team. She is accredited as a specialist in Business Law by the Law Institute of Victoria. Cecelia works for a significant number of independent schools regarding joint ventures, corporate compliance, enrolment terms, and privacy compliance, including the new mandatory data breach reporting regime. Cecelia believes in best achieving change and compliance by drawing on the powerful values of each school. Paying particular focus to the school’s mission/purpose, Cecelia advises and presents to Boards, management, staff, volunteers and contractors of educational organisations on education law and how they can implement proactive strategies. This type of work involves advising on the school’s policies and procedures, including recruitment procedures, codes of conduct and enrolment policies and procedures.
Using the Moores Agreed Pricing model, Cecelia ensures that legal advice is driven primarily by the client’s mission and objectives, ensuring that the advice provided is relevant, practical, commercial and timely. Cecelia regularly presents to organisations on education law and compliance as well as privacy compliance. She has also delivered seminars for Legalwise, the Law Institute of Victoria and for Television Education Network and been published in Law Institute Journal, Insurance and Risk Professional and The Journal of Financial Advice and is the Editor in Chief of the Portner Press Data Privacy Report. Contact Cecelia at [email protected] or connect via LinkedIn.