Pooling our talent; partnership for more efficient and effective site management

We often hear of how collaboration is so important to school improvement, yet, it seems, we are still scratching the surface of what can be achieved in other areas that ultimately impact on pupils’ experience of school. For Mount Street Academy, Benjamin Adlard Primary School, and Lincoln Carlton Academy the benefits are becoming evident in other ways – not least in terms of the improvements to the learning environment and the ability to spend money much more efficiently in the process. Here, Michael Pain speaks to Carla Wray, Andrew Stokes and Paul Quincey about what has been achieved through better co-ordination and partnership across the three schools.

When Benjamin Adlard joined Mount Street and Lincoln Carlton in 2014, the onus – quite rightly – was on school improvement. The story of how teachers, leaders and support staff have raised standards, with support from colleagues across the Kyra alliance, has been well documented. Yet in the background other developments were afoot. The schools’ executive leadership team were keen to take a new approach that ensured that premises and site managers were working together, drawing on their collective skills and maximising the use of resources and expertise across the three schools. There was a strong belief that collaboration should be making a difference to the schools on a whole number of levels.

“We wanted to develop a shared sense of ownership and involvement across our premises management team” says Carla Wray, Business Manager across the three schools. “That meant ensuring they had more responsibility within their individual schools and also that they were involved wherever required in supporting other schools across the group.” The starting point was to change the hours and job descriptions of premises / site managers, so that – unlike traditional caretaker roles – they were at school throughout the day, responding to the needs of staff and children as and when required. “We made some key changes” says Carla “because we wanted our premises team to be able to serve the schools and the staff as and when they needed it. Issues crop up during the day and it can impact on learning. We also wanted to take the opportunity to create more flexibility, so that premises staff could take holidays during term time because they were covered across the three schools, but also because it would free them up to do essential works and improvements during the holidays. Ultimately it was about making best use of the skills and talents of our premises team and reducing our reliance on outside contractors.”

“Ultimately it was about making best use of our premises team and reducing our reliance on outside contractors.”

The second development was to look at the skills and backgrounds of site managers across the three schools, so that each was aware of how they could draw upon one another when necessary. “Paul and Mick (Burns, site manager at Lincoln Carlton) have a lot of experience gained from their time in the building and maintenance sector” says Carla, “so when we looked to reappoint to the site manager role at Mount Street last year we were very attracted to Andrew’s background in project management and grounds maintenance. It complemented the skills we had and the benefits have been evident over the past year.”

Indeed, Andrew’s appointment in September 2016 signalled the real shift towards the new approach. The schools have stopped using external contractors in areas such as grounds maintenance and have been in a much better position to deploy the team where appropriate to their skill sets. “Now, if we have a particular project or problem across the schools” says Paul, “we have been able to pool our resources by bringing the various roles together and operating more as a team. It can be challenging because it does require some co-ordination, but we are seeing the benefits both in terms of how responsive we are to the schools’ needs and in reducing costs.”

A key example of this was when Mount Street suffered a major boiler breakdown earlier this year (during the winter months!). The team were able to draw on the skills of Mick (site manager at Lincoln Carlton), who has significant experience of programming and maintaining boilers. Mick was able to perform a diagnostic and to identify the particular issue. The team were then able to brief their contractors quite specifically on the fault and the area requiring repair – ensuring they were able to limit the costs. The team consider this saving to have been in the region of £3000.

“By providing the planning, the labour and going direct to suppliers (and negotiating with them) we have been able to create a bespoke outdoor area, which has been produced at a fraction of the cost of an ‘off the shelf’ product.”

The benefits have not been limited to reactive issues. The team have also been much better placed to undertake projects that, again, would otherwise have been undertaken by external contractors. “Because we have the range of skills, the strong links with teachers, and the ability to work during the holidays, we were able to take on a major project to create an inspiring outdoor area for the children at Mount Street” says Andrew. “The teachers know we are not just here to open up and keep things ticking over, and when the opportunity came up to create the new outdoor space they were able to work with us to shape the ideas from the outset. From the beginning we were able to draw on my skills in project management and sourcing materials, on Paul’s and Mick’s craftsmanship and handy skills, and on the input of teachers and support staff – who have been able to input at all stages. By providing the planning, the labour and going direct to suppliers (and negotiating with them) we have been able to create a bespoke outdoor area, which has been produced at a fraction of the cost of an ‘off the shelf’ product. It’s a real testament to what can be achieved by working together across schools and making the most of our collective resources and skills.”

The outdoor area was launched at the end of June and has transformed the Mount Street site. It features sensory paths, weather proof astroturf flooring, reading corners, climbing frames and a wildlife corner. The area has proven to be a big hit with the children – revamping a large area of the playground which was, until February, covered by mobile classrooms. Alongside developing the area, the team have also been able to provide in house risk assessments and training for teachers so that they have been able to make best use of the area – as well as ongoing maintenance and support going forward.

“Because the team were able to work together, a relatively simple job didn’t become an unnecessarily expensive one.”

 

Carla is very clear that the new approach is bearing fruit and leading to savings on a day to day basis: “We are not using any additional time. The team would be here anyway, working within the individual schools, so there is no extra resource. Instead we are using that resource far more intelligently and it can make a difference in the smallest ways. For example, the lights in the hall at Benjamin Adlard needed cleaning and in some cases replacing. That should be a simple job but because we needed scaffolding it would have required two suitably qualified people on site and would therefore in other circumstances have required an external contractor’s support. Because the team were able to work together, a relatively simple job didn’t become an unnecessarily expensive one – yet these cases do often rely on our ability to work as a team.”

 

There is clearly huge potential in the approach. Kyra’s School Business Manager group is already giving some thought as to how the alliance can create a skills directory, whereby schools can access support from one another where required. “We’re only scratching the surface of what can be achieved” says Carla, “but with budgets as tight as they are, I think it will spur us on to really think out of the box about what more we can achieved through collaboration at all levels.”

The discussions will be picked up at the next meeting of the Kyra SBM and Administrators’ forum next term.

 See our interview with Andrew and Paul on the Kyra TSA youtube channel: