Behind The Scenes
Following recent successes with the compliance audits at schools, Helen Standing, our Risk, Compliance and Premises Development Manager, explains the importance of our premises staff, and the work which has been done to enable them to work as a team.
Across our sector there’s always great focus on educating children and improving outcomes - and rightly so as this is our core function. But the work to physically keep a school building running every day is equally important. Without a safe and suitable building, the education of the children would be much more challenging. In this regard our premises teams are an important part of each school. As well as making sure that each school remains open, clean, safe, and fit for use, their crucial role was highlighted during the past two years of the pandemic. Our premises teams worked in school every day; co-ordinating cleaning, interpreting and implementing the ever-changing government guidance, making changes to the school sites, sourcing sanitiser and soap, as well as everything else that their role entails!
Over the last three years, there’s a been a shift in the way in which our premises teams operate in schools. By connecting them across the Trust through a termly forum (involving bacon sandwiches!), we’ve been able to share best practice, create links between schools, ask advice of one another, compare notes on contractors and - with the support of a central Shared Services resource - use the knowledge gained to make a difference to each of the schools.
This collaboration means we now have a real sense of team. Working closely together means we’ve been able to identify what training is needed across the Trust. Just before the pandemic, “management of legionella” training was provided by an external company to all our premises managers, and recently five members of the team completed their “PASMA” working at height training to enable them to erect and use towers in schools. In addition, we’ve been able to create a library of template documents for all areas of premises management and sample risk assessments accessible to leadership teams and premises teams.
Working as part of the Shared Services team, I am able to act as a sounding board for whatever comes up – recent conversations have included planning queries, challenging the local authority, providing help and guidance with projects, routine financial premises administration and providing template documents. Working centrally across all schools means I can slot in and help our premises teams ensure that our schools are safe and compliant, in line with current legislation and guidelines.
What we’ve collectively achieved was highlighted in our recent compliance audits undertaken by our estates partner, Synergy. During February and March, all schools were audited on their level of compliance against statutory and approved codes of practice for the education industry; Kevin Wickenden at Edward Bryant School calls it the premises equivalent of Ofsted! The outcome was overwhelmingly positive, and testament to our premises teams, and the work we’ve done together over the past few years.
But really, it’s the words of our premises team which show how well our approach is working:
“As a Premises Officer I, ostensibly, work single handed on a day-to-day basis but with the backup of a safety net that is the collective knowledge and experience of my Trust premises colleagues. We all work to the same high standard of compliance with a broadly standardised layout but using individual tweaks for each school’s specific needs. I feel we work well as a team and am confident that when help is required any assistance is only a phone call or email away.”
Martin Rogers, East Preston Junior School
“The recent compliance check was constructive and helpful in aiding how we approach this key part of the Premises Team’s responsibilities and highlights the support we receive from our Schoolsworks central services to achieve this.”
Mark Holden, Rose Green Juniors
Of course our work continues. In the pipeline we’re looking at shared procurement where possible, a central list of approved contractors to work on sites and a standardised activity timetable for each school. In addition, in line with our move from being eligible for Condition Improvement bid Funding (CIF) where we secured an amazing £1.3 million for capital works last year, to School Condition Allocation (SCA), Trust leaders are working on a strategic estates management policy.
Plenty to do, but we will get there as a strong and cohesive team.