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School maintenance – Take a joined-up approach

August 23, 2021, 10:19 GMT+1
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  • Sue Birchall gives her advice on site maintenance and how to manage your budget...
School maintenance – Take a joined-up approach

According to the information supplied by the school census, as at January 2021 there were 24,413 schools in England serving a total 8,911,887 pupils, an increase of 53 schools from the previous count.

Schools manage their sites with various support staff roles, often responsibility for the day to day sits with the school business professional in post. Site management is one of the competencies in the Institute of School Business Professionals framework and is an important part of the role.

Often in schools we lack a joined-up approach to different areas of our responsibility. A School Business professional will link site management to budget, capacity, health and safety and suitability which will ensure that you use it to the school or academy’s best advantage. 

Site management can look different depending on your setting. From the PFI model where you have a management company to the smaller school which employs a caretaker and manages everything locally the aim is the same, a safe and suitable learning environment for our students. The statutory requirements are standard regardless of the size of the site and are covered by regulation, areas such as health and safety, legionella, asbestos management to name but a few.

Expenditure

Site is also an area which carries some risk where the school budget is concerned. While day-to-day costs can easily be budgeted for within our three or even five-year budgeting cycle, a crystal ball is required for unforeseen expenditure.

Several methodologies can be used to risk assess what is required over the period of the budget cycle, including historical spend and knowledge of the site. This is enhanced by having strict processes and procedures in place to record and support the management of site.

Knowing that you are three years into the five-year electrical testing cycle for instance means that you know the cost is going to occur in the next two years.

As a local authority school you will have the statutory items taken care of and as part of a Multi Academy Trust or as a Voluntary Aided school this may also be the case but a working knowledge of what happens when is necessary. In addition, an eye on your net capacity assessment and viewing this when you are looking at your strategic planning will help to plan for future need. 

The continuously reducing devolved capital allocation that is available for maintained schools means that those of us who remain so have to be a little more innovative in how we manage our sites. An ongoing budget for maintenance and repair is imperative to ensure that the site is fit for purpose. Grander improvements or changes have to funded through planning and setting aside budgets, applying to the LA if there is a capacity need or through sponsorship and fundraising.

Demands

For VA schools the ability to apply for LCVAP means that with good planning bigger projects can be funded to the value of up to 90 per cent, VAT rules for this differ so it is worth a working knowledge. Academies and MATs have access to Condition Improvement Funding for additional works, this is on top of the school condition funding that they will receive. 

If we are lucky, we will have an amazing site team who manage the day-to-day caretaking and site management. The relationship between your Site Manager and SBP is as essential as the one between the SBP and the Headteacher or Principal. As with all other processes in schools, good communication is key. Often, site demands are immediate and demanding and without a working relationship and planning, staff turnover can be high for site staff.

You can of course out-source many of the site responsibilities. There are a myriad of digital processes for managing your responsibilities for site, for recording statutory responsibilities and even site management itself.

Along with that, service level agreements for cleaning, catering and maintenance (many schools have these for grounds work for instance) can be worth looking at. While they could be more expensive, they offer security, sustainability and accountability which is attractive to a busy school. Economy of scale can be achieved if buying collaboratively.

However, you choose to manage your site, it is as important as every other area of school, our students deserve a learning environment that is fit for purpose.

Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.