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FM is top of the class

Valerie-MillerTwenty years ago, facilities management wasn’t a term that would have been used by any school management team. There were of course caretakers, cleaners and dinner ladies all with very distinct roles. The landscape, however, is changing as secondary and primary schools face new challenges; suddenly there is a real value in understanding more about our world. Valerie Miller, education business lead at Bellrock Property and Facilities Management, looks at how the privatisation of public sector education gives opportunities for FM to contribute to its success

The structure of ownership of education facilities in the public sector has changed and continues to evolve. The introduction of public private finance schemes some 15 years ago to improve the stock of school facilities played a major part in this change. A PFI (Private Finance Initiative) or BSF (Building Schools for the Future) contract, both schemes under which schools were constructed, require long term lifecycle investment as well as routine maintenance so that the school can be returned in good condition after the 25 year period. A robust facilities management regime needs to be at the heart of these schemes.

These construction models are not the only schemes to force a change in attitude. The launch of the academy, and latterly free school, schemes under the Academies Act 2010 have added to the significant shift in attitude in public sector education. The remodelling of part of the state school system has forced a seismic shift in how these schools operate. Released from the shackles of local authority control, academies and free schools are free to decide how they run every aspect of the school and can access products and services independently. These schools are in effect private enterprises that own an asset which has to be managed and maintained. It must be said that this doesn’t just relate to facilities services, but also to purchasing and human resource support. Of course they may be private enterprises but they have charitable status and must not make a profit.

There is a knock-on effect for those schools that are part of the traditional local authority model, known as maintained schools. They have become the victims of the success of the academy and free school programmes. Fewer maintained schools relying on the local authority for non-curriculum support such as FM service delivery, means that the economy of scale is no longer there for many authorities. The reduced demand has forced some boroughs to cut these services completely, leaving school management no option but to cluster together to access services independently from private sector providers.

iStock_000012995878Medium_optWith these new models comes responsibility. The governance of the school is no longer the responsibility of the local authority. Legionella or any other significant health and safety breach now falls squarely on the shoulders of the head teacher and the school management team. Professionalising the compliance regime suddenly becomes extremely important. Of course facilities management can help by establishing robust health and safety procedures, including risk assessments and evaluating supplier competence.

The business aspect to managing the school also takes centre stage. Auditing procurement and service delivery becomes part of establishing value for money for the academies’ profit and loss account. As with health and safety, facilities management can support the school management team by applying standard efficiency practices. A good example of how this can manifest itself is with a cleaning service. Without technical knowledge or experience a one size fits all approach to cleaning may be adopted. An FM can easily assess actual requirements and adjust the cleaning regime accordingly without compromising student welfare. For example, the school may be cleaned every day with the exception of the office areas, thereby generating savings. This example may reflect standard practice applied in other environments but schools have often had limited exposure to these ideas.

About Sarah OBeirne


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