It’s not sexy but it’s got teeth!

5 Nov 2019 | by Jo Marchant

Picture the scene – Tom Cruise is playing a rookie lawyer who accidentally ends up working for a law firm who represent the Mafia.  He’s being coerced by the FBI to dish the dirt on the Mafia and is trying to do it in such a way that he doesn’t end up dead.  The final scene plays out between Tom Cruise and the FBI agent.  Tom points to a pile of boxes of paper and says, “Have you really looked at that stuff?  It’s not sexy but it’s got teeth!”  The evidence that Tom has delivered isn’t exactly what the FBI were expecting – it’s evidence of the Mafia’s tax evasion.*

I kind of feel the same way about the Department for Education’s suite of documents entitled “Good Estate Management for Schools”.  They’re not sexy but they’ve got teeth!   When you really start to look into the documents, you’ll see that actually they’re really worth your time even if they don’t sound that exciting.  Estate or premises management always seems to come a poor second to finance these days (understandably so) but if you don’t look after your premises, it can end up costing your school a lot of money.  Trust me, I know!

This year I’ve been working as a consultant business manager in a large special school which was opened in September 2017.  A brand new school, it looked (and still does look) really great – to an outsider.  But I’ve spent 3 days a week for 8 months sorting out all the premises issues at that school.  In my first 3 weeks, I spent more time in the boiler room than I did in my office!  I became a detective trying to work out why the gas supply kept shutting off in the kitchen and why one of the boilers was burnt out after only 18 months.  I know more about what happens when bacterial Pseudomonas gets into your water heating system than I ever thought possible (heck, I even know how to spell that word without having to Google it!).  I know what happens when your state of the art Buildings Maintenance System isn’t installed and set up properly.  I know what type of dosing system should be installed in a hydrotherapy pool.  I should do – I spent 4 months wrangling with the builders to get the wrong one they’d installed changed. 

The list of premises issues with this “brand new school” seemed endless.  How did things get into this state?  Because they didn’t have a trained Site Manager when they took over the new school who was able to maintain the premises properly or who had enough knowledge to spot when things weren’t working right.  So ignore the maintenance of your premises at your peril!  Or give me a ring if you want to hear the rest of this tale of woe and the details as to why it’s cost the local authority nearly £80,000 to get a “brand new” school into working order.

So I guess you can see why I’m so keen about taking a strategic approach to premises management.  The DfE’s suite of documents starts with a self-assessment tool.  It’s only 2 pages long but it’ll give you an idea of where you need to focus your attention.  The next document I’d recommend looking at is “Strategic estate management” which shows you how you can you use your premises effectively and get the best out of them for your students too.  Another interesting document is “The fundamentals of good estate management” which tells you the most effective way to manage your premises.  Then you can drill down into the detail with “Tips to reduce energy and water use in schools”.  Finally, a good one for your trustees/governors is “Top 10 estate checks for boards”.

So I say let’s give premises management the recognition it needs so you know you’re not storing up a whole lot of trouble for the future.  My advice is, don’t delay – check out the link below today!

* In case you’re wondering, the film was called “The Firm”.  It’s one of my all time favourites and I know the script pretty much off by heart.  The music by jazz pianist Dave Grusin is brilliant too – I have the CD!