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Enabling positive experiences in schools

In this week when the FM industry is celebrating World FM Day we wanted to look at FM in all sectors. Matt Garner, managing director for our government schools business tells us more about the role of FM in schools.

When we think about FM as an industry, people automatically think about big companies and corporate headquarters, about offices, workplaces and employees.

As managing director of Sodexo’s government schools business, I run a business that provides iFM services to state schools across the UK. The challenges, unsurprisingly, are very different.

The 100 or so schools we manage are a real mixture, ranging from large secondary schools with 2,000 plus pupils on roll, through to small village primary schools where in some cases they have less than 20 pupils. It’s not just the size that varies greatly but the school buildings and premises too, it could be an old Victorian school building or a brand new modern building.

So you can see it’s a huge, diverse market in which there is political drive for change and the focus is on improving academic achievement. Buildings are a secondary consideration and budgetary pressures often lead to a short-term, fragmented approach to estate strategy.

A recent report by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Better Spaces for Learning #TopMarkSchools, suggests that new schools commissioned by central government are not delivering value for money. The report states that ‘good school buildings have a significant and positive impact on pupil behaviour, engagement, wellbeing and attainment’, it also goes on to say that ‘up to £150 million is being spent annually on unnecessary services and maintenance which could have been avoided if schools were better designed’.

There’s no doubt in our minds that the quality, design and upkeep of school facilities can have a positive impact on educational outcomes, and we certainly feel that we have a job to do to help educate the education sector on the value of estate strategy.

Schools are dynamic and interesting environments in which to work. We are taking care of facilities as diverse as sports grounds and halls, to science labs, to dining halls and, of course, classrooms.

Each school has a distinct rhythm. Break and lesson times differ. There are early, mid-day and late shifts. As a result, there is little opportunity for all through ‘normal’ working hours. In schools where the sports hall doubles up as the canteen our catering teams have to work in very short time spans to set up and then tidy away, so as not to disrupt lessons and assemblies.

We have to be very flexible about the way we work. A lot of pre-planned maintenance goes on during the holidays and we have to very organised about planning work in those windows.

The day-to-day teaching staff perceives the space as theirs – it’s a backdrop to learning. For example, stuff gets hung from suspended ceilings and light fittings, and furniture gets moved around. There’s also the matter of hundreds of children, who aren’t always as careful and mindful of their surroundings as we might like!

Despite the challenges, most or our people who work in, on or for schools do so because they have chosen to – not because it is just another job. This is not just about technical wizardry or new innovative ways to deliver services – it’s all about people. Our people are genuinely passionate about their work and the value they can bring in giving children a decent environment in which to learn.

External provision of facilities management can be seen as an expense that is taking money away from education, so it is incumbent upon the FM industry to demonstrate the social value it can offer – through the supply chain it involves, its community links, and the employment it gives people. Whether it’s through competitions for students, support for school charity events or inviting in our chefs for food demos, we try to support our schools in more than just the day job and design our services in way that has a positive impact in teaching and learning.

According to RIBA, only 5% of school buildings are currently performing. My challenge and the challenge to the FM industry as a whole is this: it’s not good enough to just design good buildings – we need to bring that design to life and keep it alive during the life of the buildings. We also need to be cognisant and mindful of our end consumers; in our case the pupils for whom those buildings are vital as a place in which to develop and to learn. In short the role of FM in schools does exactly what we are celebrating this week – it enables positive experiences for school management, the teaching staff and most importantly the children.

March 09, 2019

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