Guest Post: How confident are you that your school is safe?

How confident are you that your school is safe? And who is on the hook if it’s not?

 A brief guide to ensuring you have the right management and maintenance arrangements and accountabilities in place. By Tom Deacon, Arcadis UK Account Director, Schools & Trusts 

No-one would disagree with the fact that ensuring your buildings are safe and legally compliant is a fundamental requirement for any school.  In the aftermath of the terrible fire at Grenfell earlier this year there is a heightened awareness of building safety and the importance of compliance. It is events like these that highlight the complex nature of both building design and their safety. Moreover, it puts a brighter spotlight on those organisations and individuals with accountability towards buildings and the people who use them.

The structure of our school system has changed markedly over the last decade. With circa 76% of secondary schools and 27% of primary schools now independent from the local authority, the pattern and approach to safety and maintenance has also evolved.

We work alongside hundreds of MATs, Trusts, Local Authorities, Dioceses, and individual schools across the country, helping them keep their schools safe and legal. Through this article we hope to help demystify the complex area of statutory compliance and provide some simple guidance on how to improve the building compliance level at the same time as exploring ways to save money.

The scale of the challenge

Poor compliance is unacceptable, but commonplace,

Over 95% of the schools we have audited in the past year have failed to meet all of the compliance regulations that are required by law. 42% is the average level of compliance across schools audited. This means that on average, schools are failing to comply with 58% of their statutory compliance requirements.

What are the key reasons for gaps in compliance?

Through our involvement with schools, the top trends that surround poor compliance can be put down to:

Understanding Statutory Compliance Needs

Schools often struggle to ascertain their specific statutory compliance requirements leading to non-compliance.

Limited Technical Knowledge and Support

Many schools tend to have limited technical knowledge and support available to ensure they are delivering and commissioning the appropriate contractors and individuals to achieve compliance within their premises. 

Cost and Budget Challenges

Cost and budget constraints are leading schools to cut costs in property and compliance, thus adding risk and introducing additional areas of non-compliance.

Limited Management Systems and Processes

Schools tend to have limited property and compliance management systems in order to be able to effectively understand, plan and constantly manage statutory compliance needs and requirements. 

 

Action plan: staying safe and legal 

Be clear on who has accountability and who has responsibility

Ultimate accountability for statutory compliance remains firmly at the top of the organisation, whether this is a Trust Board or Board of Governors. As a Responsible Body, it is the Trust / Board that holds the ultimate accountability for ensuring buildings are safe and maintained to the correct standards. This should be clearly set down in Terms of Reference and communicated to all those involved in the management and maintenance of school buildings.  Clearly documented statements of accountability and identification of who will be responsible for managing the building and maintaining of the safe environment is fundamental. 

Always identify a “competent person” to lead on statutory compliance matters and make sure the requirements of their role are written down. This prevents ambiguity and issues occurring because of confused responsibility.

Take the time to understand your obligations….

The most common issue that is raised to us by clients is that they simply don’t know everything they need to do. It is not surprising given the number of aspects of statutory compliance regulations that exist. 

Maintenance and Facilities Management comes under three distinct categories, statutory, operational and good practice as outlined below. Only the statutory requirements are compulsory.

The Arcadis building management audit process contains a 91-point checklist, covering 14 key areas of compliance. For each of these areas, schools are required to have systems, processes and in many cases supplier contracts in place to stay compliant. As a Responsible Body, you need to make sure that your management team has competent understanding of each of these areas of compliance and that they are supported in their training.

Compliance checklist

 

Asbestos

Security Systems

Legionella

Emergency Lighting

 COSHH

Heating, Hot Water & Pressurised Systems

Roof Safety/ Maintenance

Gas Installations

Accidents and First Aid

Air Conditioning and Ventilation

Lift/ Dumb Waiter & Lifting Equipment

Electrical Installations

Site Attendance Book

Electrical Appliances

Critical Incident Planning

Lightning Protection

Fire Procedures

Display Energy Certification

 

Contracts, contracts, contracts….

Carefully audit your existing suppliers and make sure you have written and in-date contracts for all of them. If you don’t have contracts with your suppliers, ask for one. It will protect you in so many ways.

Are your existing providers meeting regulations?

Check the basics. Always make sure that the contracts you have with your maintenance suppliers include a clear scope of service as well as programmed maintenance regime with key dates and timescales included. This will help you check that the maintenance regime you are paying for meets regulations. It also holds the supplier to account for the quality of what they provide. After all, it is the Responsible Body, and not the contractor, who must ensure the right maintenance and checks are being done.

Regular independent auditing

Consider using trained advisors to review and audit your maintenance regimes. Not only does it give you access to professional advice, it also gives you piece of mind that an independent qualified organisation has reviewed your regime and procedures. This is likely to cost only a few hundred pounds and is money well spent.

Keeping up to date

Statutory compliance is as much about the “recording” as it is the “doing”. Without accurate and up-to-date records there is no evidence that you have complied with regulations. If the school take on tasks themselves then it is important to thoroughly document the actions taken. Similarly, when tasks are contracted out to suppliers, make sure they don’t leave site without leaving records. Formal certificates should be issued by contractors within a few working days. If not, you should chase them in writing.

Be prepared to pay more

Many of the schools that we advise are not undertaking maintenance and safety checks that meet all statutory compliance requirements. As a result of implementing improved maintenance regimes there is often a requirement to buy additional services more involved than previously undertaken. This is likely to involve additional costs, however don’t be tempted to cut corners but instead focus on achieving savings through maximising your purchasing power and using economies of scale.

Saving money

Smart procurement

MATs, Federations and the like are in a strong position to pool resources across many areas of school operations. Statutory compliance, facilities management and maintenance are no different. The rewards are available for Trusts that take the time to standardise and procure their building maintenance contracts in a smart and efficient way. For school staff, it can streamline local management & communication time, the processing of payments and the management of quality control and monitoring. This will give them time back to focus on other things. Suppliers will be more willing to offer reduced costs in return for longer term contracts over multiple school sites so there are tangible savings on outgoing costs to be harnessed.

Centralisation should not be treated as the panacea, especially where the school estate is geographically widespread or the maintenance requirements are vastly different across the sites. However, careful consideration of centralised purchasing has many time, quality and cost benefits and should be the first item on the list of ways to save money.

Using in-house skills & training effectively

Help yourself. If you are part of a Multi Academy Trust or group of schools it would be wise to carefully assess your existing property maintenance and facilities management expertise you have in-house. By sharing the skills of your team across your estates, it can help increase compliance, save money and at the same time upskill those who are less familiar with building maintenance. Also consider whether one person can become the “Compliance Specialist” across your schools. It is more cost effective to train one person and set them up to train others.

Check for crossovers (and gaps!) in supplier contracts

Before entering into new supplier contracts check the scope of services for any cross over with other suppliers. Ultimately this could end up costing you more money. More alarmingly this could cause issues of split responsibility if something goes wrong. This also applies when checking for gaps. If you are not sure, seek professional advice.

The subject of building compliance is complex. It requires the investment of time from the right people and resources, clear technical understanding and appropriate funding to work effectively. Whilst to many it may feel like a necessary burden, it is the cornerstone of good stewardship and simply must be taken seriously in order to safeguard those who use the buildings.

If you approach the subject with rigour and focus on achieving savings along the way then, not only will you have peace of mind but you may even have a little more money to spend on the things that are important to the development of the children who thrive in those buildings you manage.

For further information: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_

data/file/410294/Advice_on_standards_for_school_premises.pdf

About Arcadis

Arcadis are the leading build asset and design consultancy operating in the education sector in the UK. They have a 60-year pedigree of providing built asset support services to schools and trusts. Alongside it’s project management and design services, Arcadis advises the ESFA, Trusts and Responsible Bodies on statutory compliance and asset management, working tirelessly to help support schools in staying safe and legal and saving money.

Arcadis – Improving the quality of life for schools and the communities they serve.

For more information please contact the author on 0207 812 2363 or thomas.deacon@arcadis.com

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