Discussing HR in the Federation with HR Officer, Dominika Kozlowska

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Following on in our series of talk pieces on HR and recruitment, this week we speak to our central HR Officer, Dominika Kozlowska about safer recruitment, practical HR resolution and her time in the Federation.

Tell us a bit about you and your role in the central Federation team, what does it involve?

My name is Dominika Kozlowska and I am an HR Officer for the central team at Head Office. I got my start in the Federation as HR Recruitment Administrator in May 2018 and have recently been promoted to HR Officer in January of this year. In my previous role as HR Recruitment Administrator, a lot of my role consisted of key aspects of the recruitment process. Starting with putting advertisements out all the way through to interviewing, shortlisting and important pre-employment checks. I also assisted with probation, annual leave and any ER queries. As HR Officer, I work on casework with academies, from disciplinaries to grievances, advising academies on best practice.

How did you get started in Human Resources?

I studied business management at the University of Wales before moving on to my master’s in international business management. One of my modules during my masters was in HR and I really enjoyed it. I went on to complete my CIPD qualification in Level 3 (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in Human Resources). It gave me the basis to work in Human Resources and now I am currently studying towards CIPD Level 5, which covers more breadth of human resource management and employment law. After graduating, I started working for a charity called St John’s Ambulance, as HR Administrator. I worked on recruitment for the volunteers and was quite a handful as I was looking after 8,000 volunteers! I moved to London working at a local council, supporting schools in the Islington area.

Since graduating and working the charity and public sector, I have really been able to see why it is important to contribute to the bigger picture. A big part of what I do and why I do it is because I want to help people and make a valued difference. Working in the public sector allows you to contribute your skills and abilities towards helping change and support the community. Within my time at St John’s Ambulance, I was assisting in recruiting and retaining fantastic first aiders, gaining first aid qualification myself. At Harris Federation, I am able to support and assist in attracting talented teachers to our schools. I have grown very passionate about what we do here, particularly as we help the most disadvantaged areas of London build thriving school communities.

Why Education?

I come from a family of teachers, so I grew up with education being a huge part of my life. My father was a lecturer of Biochemistry at university and PE teacher, which influenced me greatly into wanting to make an impactful difference in education sector. I think what comes to mind first when you say you work in education is being teacher, I decided not to be but still wanted to be involved in creating and maintaining thriving educational spaces. Having worked in a local council previously, where I supported local schools, I developed a great passion for what I do and have been able to assist and support the delivery of exceptional education.

What is the role of HR in schools?

It really depends on the academy, primary and secondaries may differ slightly. Primary HR functions might differ as their academy may be smaller, giving the HR Officer a lot more scope of responsibility which covers a broader range of duties.

In terms of recruitment, both secondary and primary academies follow the same protocol, with responsibilities of shortlisting, organising interviews as well as the single central record register. The register itself is very important part of an HR Officer’s role, keeping this up to date and accurate in line with the KCSIE policy. Most of them also work on casework, preparing documents for sickness and absences, disciplinaries as well as any confidential matters. In line with our GDPR protocols, some HR Officers are also data champions, which means the preside over academy-wide data matters, advising on best practice, policy and providing guidance where necessary.

As central HR support, we are appointed to support HR academy staff with an initial training session held at the Head office in Croydon. Within this, we provide them with a solid basis of their responsibilities, duties and role in academy and for the wider Federation. It is important that all HR academy staff know that we are here to assist them as first point of contact. In making this clear, we support with queries around compliance, absence/sickness as well as other day-to-day duties with more complex issues passed on to the relevant staff. We also are the first point of contact for any changes in legislation and or policy. As we distribute information on important changes centrally, we are able to provide a resourceful and informative function for academy wide HR staff.

The preventative measures in part to updates in legislation and policy are a key part of our role in support of academies to ensure we are appropriately prepared to deal with any forthcoming changes. This also ensures a shared collaborative approach when it comes to our HR function. We continue to hold termly HR network training days to build on and maintain a tight knit network of HR professionals across the Federation. It is a great place for our department to network and share best practice. Our last session had some great feedback as it was quite interactive, we also invite members from related departments such as Talent and Attraction and Safer Recruitment to deliver training and answer queries.

The great thing about our model is that HR Officers have the autonomy to work as HR support for their respective academies but are always aware that our team is here to provide assistance.

The roles of HR Officers can be extensively varied, some of which working as PA as well HR Officers and are able to preside over a range of different areas of school wide responsibilities. This is what I find quite interesting about HR function, particularly within our academies. We are open and able to provide opportunities to those with a range of experience, so if you are looking to work in education with PA experience and want to work in HR, you can do so. The overarching theme is that there is room to grow and adapt here.

What is different about HR in education in comparison to HR at our private/public sector organisations

Well, the biggest difference in education being the responsibility to children’s safety and welfare. Within this, we have strict and specific policy and compliant procedures to follow in order to maintain safeguarding and welfare provision to a suitable standard. With guidance from the Department of Education, it is important that we are vigilant on our responsibilities as school and education providers. Implementing the correct checks and vetting, thorough onboarding compliance are just some of the ways we make sure we ensure this. Although we are not teachers ourselves, we have a responsibility to ensure teachers that teach in our academies are suitable to do so through HR networks and enable academies to recruit.

What are some of the challenges?

I think one of the things that comes to mind is onboarding prospective employees and doing so on time. In support of just under 50 academies, there is a responsibility to ensure that vacancies are filled as soon as possible with suitable candidates. This means centrally, HR function has to run efficiently and effectively to meet the demand that we have as one of the largest MATs in the country without compromising responsibility over checks and compliance. This is why we regularly review our processes where necessary to find ways to be more efficient. We work collaboratively with our stakeholders, principals and colleagues to find the most efficient and appropriate way to deal any future or present challenges we face.

Again, the tight labour market for teachers is a highly topical challenge for us as for many other school providers. In collaboration with our central Talent and Attraction team, we look at different ways of sourcing candidates, being as flexible as possible to attract and retain. We also try to ensure that the benefits we offer are competitive, looking at ways to improve them wherever possible in order to aid our search. This is with particular reference to any effects of leaving the EU may have on the labour market and any legislation moving forward.

What motivates you to keep doing the job you do?

It definitely has a lot to do with the overall ethos of the organisation. We are here to help and support the delivery of exceptional education to children from various areas of London. The results we achieve continue to amaze me, as year on year we continue to excel and grow. From a personal point of view, I myself am very committed to helping people and make a difference. I think what makes this organisation so great is that it is built and connected by people who want to make a difference. My personal values are in line with the vision of the Federation and I have learnt that no matter your skillset or areas of expertise, there is a place here for you to thrive alongside our academies.

Another major part of my motivation is that I have a little one that I strive to do better for, which is my main reason for working towards my HR qualification. I have been very lucky to work for an organisation which encourages personal learning and development as much as it encourages organisational growth.

What do you feel sets the Harris Federation apart from other MATs?

I think there is an overarching theme of growth and innovation. At every corner, there is a performance report that continues to prove our success and dedication to changing lives. I think this is what really drew me in. I think some people come to an organisation and may develop a stagnation, but here, there are so many opportunities to grow and develop in your field. You are given an opportunity to discover yourself and learn what interests you. I think meeting the team was also a big part of my decision to work here, I was really able to get a feel for the work culture. I could tell there was real passion for what was being done here and the colleague who interviewed me at the time had just been promoted so I knew very early on that there was opportunity for development. Two years on, that is where I am now.  When I started, I had an informative induction where I found that colleagues and managers were taking the time to meet with me. I also had timetabled meetings scheduled for the first two weeks for me to meet with key stakeholders, so I knew very early on who they were, what their roles were and I could establish my role in relation to theirs. It gave me fantastic ground to work from, I knew exactly who to go to if I had a query. I was never told ‘not today’ or ‘maybe tomorrow.’ I always was given time to sit down and talk things through which made me a lot more confident in settling into my role.

 

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