Facilities Matter

Think back to “the best days of your life” as your parents would say, your only worries were getting your homework in on time and who was the latest band or team to support so you didn’t feel out of the crowd in the playground…or was that just me?

Students first real experience of facilities management was the grumpy caretaker who chased you out of the corridors at lunchtime, and constantly walking around in a brown overall coat with a brush and a screwdriver. Is this the image today of modern facilities management delivery in our schools? Thankfully not in my experience.

Educational leaders acknowledge that good facilities management is an important piece of the jigsaw in the running of a high performing school, academy or Multi Academy Trusts (also known as MATs – where several academies are combined into a “business unit” to optimise resources).

Like other facilities, it’s only when things go wrong that people tend to notice and start to ask questions.

The caretaker role from my school days has evolved, but at a local level, have these establishments recognised the need for a coherent and suitable facilities strategy or plan? With the evolution of academies and MATs, the responsibility of statutory compliance and the maintenance of the building have been transferred from the Local Authority to the academy management team.

This additional responsibility can be challenging, particularly if the management team doesn’t have experience or knowledge to ensure that their buildings are in good repair and in a state of operational readiness while juggling other responsibilities. So how does the academy or MAT management team ensure that they can comply with their legal obligations?

Well, it takes time, resource and recognition of the fact that if something goes wrong, the consequences can be dire.

The Department of Education provides advice and guidance on what should be done and when, however, unless the individual responsible for the compliance has a good grounding in such matters, it can be daunting to try and pick your way through the reams of documentation and requirements.

State of compliance

So where to start? Determining what the current state of compliance within the portfolio by undertaking a statutory compliance audit will give the school leadership a true picture of where the gaps (and risks) may be. Are the skills available within the MAT or Academy?

Some will have FM/property management within their structure; for others, the responsibility for the buildings and portfolio will sit with the business manager.

If the skill sets aren’t readily available internally, an investment in appointing an independent audit and gap analysis is well worth considering.

Audits aren’t something to be scared of; in fact; a structured detailed audit will give the organisation the starting point on the road to a successfully compliant portfolio.

Once the audit and gap analysis have been completed, an action plan needs to be developed; detailing what tasks need to be completed and what are the control measures that need to be put into place to reduce risk. Decisions need to be made based on what elements will have to be outsourced and how this is to be managed. Larger academies or MATs may decide to outsource all of their requirements to a single provider, whilst others will want to maintain a higher level of input into the process and appoint several contractors to undertake distinct elements.

Whatever the decision, the establishment cannot fully outsource its responsibilities to contractors. Therefore, an understanding of what is required from a statutory perspective is of paramount importance to the academy management team. The requirement of proof demands that adequate records are held detailing work activities and the recording of information; is this information readily in one place or is the holding of such important documentation fragmented with papers and test certificates in the boiler room in a dusty A4 folder or in the school office?

In summary, my advice to anyone facing this task (and it can be applied to most portfolio’s not just those in the education sector) is; understand where you are; identify the risks; make a plan and document the progress.

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