Skip links

Boarding Ratios and Risk Management: Part Two

The Principal of the Woden Valley High School died during the night and the teachers gathered for a special staff meeting before school. The Deputy Head put one teacher on duty in the playground, when on a normal day there were as many as 20 teachers on duty. During this time a fifteen-year-old student climbed the flagpole, and a 7kg part of the flagpole (called a “truck”) fell onto the student and severely injured his head. The school was sued, and the case eventually got to the Supreme Court, where the Court found that the Commonwealth had been negligent in failing to provide proper supervision.

The Court concluded that;
“There should have been provision for proper supervision of the pupils in the school grounds during the period preceding the commencement of instruction. Indeed, it is clear that the necessity for this supervision was recognised from the normal practice whereby between five and twenty members of the staff exercised supervision in the grounds at this time.”
The court decided that 1 teacher was not enough to provide proper supervision of students.

While this example describes a school context, the same issue, the appropriate ratio of staff to students, is relevant to boarding. How can we know the correct ratio of staff to boarding students we require, to ensure a safe environment?

The Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences, under Section 3.6 Care and Supervision of Boarders, has the following standard for staff to boarder ratios:
“Requirements relating to boarder care and supervision shall include: (3.6 b) Risk management processes used to determine ratios of trained staff to boarders for all circumstances.”

This paper looks at a risk management process that boarding schools and residences can use to determine the staff to student ratio that will provide adequate care and supervision, in their context.

The process is based around the five stages of the Risk Management Process (ISO 31000)

1. Establish the context – boarding residence, students, procedures and culture
2. Identify the risks – what possible harm could occur
3. Analyse the risk – on a risk matrix
4. Evaluate the risk – what is acceptable
5. Treat the risk or make the changes

Throughout all these stages there needs to be;
• Communication and consultation occurring with the stakeholders,
• Planned monitoring and review processes.

click to enlarge

Risk Management process

How this could be achieved

1. Establish the Context The activity is the boarding program.
The objective is the safe care and supervision of boarders

  1. Residence environment: buildings, (bedrooms, bathrooms, common areas, stairs and hallways), and grounds. Note supervision points, sightlines and available CCTV.
  2. External environment: Location and socio/cultural environment.
  3. The boarding staff: including experience and training.
  4. The students: capacity to self-manage, ages, genders, students with special needs, and safety plans.
  5. The agreed time zones: for supervision and times when a higher ratio or lower ratio is required. (See tables 1 & 2)
  6. Policies and procedures relevant to the safe care and supervision of students
2. Identify the Risk Detail the possible risks to boarders if there are not sufficient trained staff.
For example;

  1. Students behaving in unsafe manner
  2. Students harming other students
  3. Students harming themselves
  4. Students suffering from an illness or physical event
  5. Students not taking prescribed medication
3. Analyse the risk Use a risk management matrix . Map on to the matrix the ‘consequences’ and ‘likelihood’ for each identified risk and for different staff to boarder ratios. Take into account the different aspects of your context (from part 1).
Do this by using the zone that requires the highest ratio.

  1. Start with a very high ratio (eg 10 staff for 100 boarders or ratio of 1 staff to 10 boarders) and plot each risk onto the matrix.
  2. Reduce the ratio (eg 1 staff to 30 boarders, and then 1 staff to 30 borders and map onto the matrix.
  3. Overlay the different results onto one matrix for each risk.

Note 1: You will probably find that the ‘consequences’ do not change very much but the ‘likelihood’ will change with different ratios.
Note 2: This part of the process is subjective and there will be a rangeof outcomes. Analysing with a team of experienced boarding staff will result in a more balanced outcome.
Note 3: When analysing possible risks, refer back to the notes you made on context (your environment, students, procedures and culture)

4. Evaluate the risk View the matrix and decide what level of risk is tolerable or acceptable for your organisation. What ‘likelihood’ and ‘consequence’ is tolerable or acceptable.
5. Treat the risk Decide on acceptable staff to boarder ratios and implement across the different zones.
Consider additional actions to further reduce risk. EG

  • Providing staff training,
  • Physical changes to the building or grounds.
6. Throughout the process communicate and consult with stakeholders. This is very important when making subjective judgement such as analysing the risk and plotting the ‘likelihood’ and ‘consequence’ onto a risk matrix.
7. At the start of the process, plan how you will monitor and review your risk management process, and its resulting ratio.

When Heads of boarding and staff are discussing ratios, they argue that different times of the day require different ratios. We describe these different times as zones. More staff are needed during the very busiest times of the day – (higher staff to student ratio) and during the quiet times, less staff are required.
After consulting boarding leaders around Australia, it became clear that each boarding context is different and there is no ‘one zone fits all’ pattern. Saturday afternoon in one residence might be a very busy time with lots of movement and organised activities, but in another residence, it might be a very quiet time with lots of students away on leave.
For Example: In a city boarding residence of 100 students, the busiest time zone (zone 3 weekdays immediately after school) has the highest staff to student ratio of 5 on duty for 100 students, or a ratio of 1 staff member to 20 students. Zone 2 has 3 staff members on duty, or 1:33, Zone 1 (when students are in bed) has 2 staff members on or 1:50.

There are two examples of zones below in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1

click to enlarge

Table 2

click to enlarge

Analyse the risk
For each identified risk, use a risk matrix such as below. Firstly, ask the question “If we had one staff member for 10 boarding students, what consequences (harm) could occur and how likely is it?” You then draw in a line that represents the consequences and the likelihood of that ratio. You then ask “If we had one staff member for 20 boarding students, what consequences (harm) could occur and how likely is it?” You then draw in a line to represent the consequences and the likelihood, and so on for all the different staff to student ratios, for each identified risk. See examples in tables 3 and 4 below.

Table 3: Students behaving in unsafe manner

click to enlarge

Table 4: Students harming other students

click to enlarge

Evaluating the Risk
Once all of the risks identified have been analysed, then the Boarding leader and the teams would view all of the risk matrixes and would make a decision about what level of risk they can tolerate or accept. This will enable the team to identify the ratio of staff to boarding students for that time zone.

Treating the Risk
Treating the risk firstly involves ensuring that the identified number of staff members are rostered on for each zone. Treating the risk may also involve other actions in combination with this, such as;

  • Providing other supports to the boarding staff,
  • Providing training or professional development;
  • Developing or amending boarding student screening processes
  • Training for the boarding students
  • Changes to the buildings or grounds
  • Changes to policy and procedure

Monitoring and reviewing
In order to assess if your treatment of the risks is effective and to be vigilant for changing you need to constantly monitor and review. This could be a standing agenda item for every boarding staff meeting.

We would really appreciate feedback on this paper. We would be very interested to know if you had carried out a risk management process to determine staff to boarding student ratio. If you believe the process can be improved, or if you any suggestions, please contact us,

Steve & Jenny Florisson
November 2019

Leave a comment