Are our schools clean enough?

Many schools have opened up about how they have to take on additional roles such as cleaning as the budgets to pay for such services has decreased. Education Business investigates the issue

Stories of headteachers and teachers taking on cleaning duties due to budget cuts has made the headlines this year.

Many schools have opened up about how they have to take on additional roles such as cleaning, maintenance, catering and groundwork as the budgets to pay for such services has decreased.

Scottish education union EIS did a survey to find out what the situation was like in Scotland. The survey of almost 700 schools across Scotland found that 80 per cent of schools have seen a reduction in the frequency or quality of cleaning due to budget cuts over the past three years.

It found that many schools report no cleaning at all is carried out on some days and that pupils’ desks, classroom sinks, and other shared surfaces are not cleaned or not cleaned regularly.

The issue of cleaning products was also raised. Ineffective cleaning products, or even just water, was reported as being given to cleaners. It was also found that there is also no absence cover provided when cleaners are off sick.

Many respondents stated that the worsening in cleaning standards was not the cleaners’ fault but down to the reduction in the amount of cleaning time that they are given per room. Some responses expressly stated that their cleaners were working additional time (beyond their contracted hours) in order to maintain the cleanliness of classes.

Commenting on the survey findings, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The results of this survey make for worrying reading. Schools simply must be properly cleaned on a daily basis to ensure an appropriate learning and teaching environment for pupils and staff.”

“Cuts to cleaning services are placing a great deal of strain on cleaning staff, in some instances forcing teachers to undertake cleaning of classrooms, and creating an environment where germs and disease can spread rapidly and with serious repercussions for the health of pupils and staff.”

“This can lead to increases in pupil and teacher absence, with a detrimental impact on both wellbeing and on learning and teaching. Recent incidences such as major outbreaks of norovirus and infestations of insects or rodents in schools have further highlighted the consequences of cutting back on proper cleaning within our schools.”

Teachers taking on cleaning

Many teachers said they had cleaned parts of the school themselves because as teachers, they were concerned with pupils’ welfare, as the cleaning would not be otherwise done (around 120 of the 626 responses).

The survey questioned whether health or hygiene issues were being caused from poor cleaning. Around 138 of the 626 respondents believed this to be the case, with poor cleaning resulting in more frequent staff and pupil illnesses. Many responses stated, or speculated that, specific staff andpupil illnesses were caused by poor cleaning, such as how high dust levels were potentially affecting respiratory ailments and exacerbating asthma conditions.

This is a problem found across the country. Before the NAHT annual conference, three school leaders spoke out about the realities of austerity. As reported in the Guardian, Emily Proffitt from Tittensor First School in Stoke- on-Trent said: “To cut costs, I’ve taken on the roles of catering manager, premises manager, safeguarding lead and deputy, as well as head. I’ve put rubber gloves on and cleaned toilets at the school. I’ve [tended] the school garden. I’ve managed catering logistics. I’ve spent part of my Easter holidays in school, taking stock of deliveries, with my young children.”

Clem Coady from Stoneraise School in Cumbria said: “I’ve started doing every role I can possibly do at my school to avoid making teachers and support staff redundant. For example, I’ve ended our maintenance contract and picked up that work. I’ve fixed cupboard doors, leaky taps and door handles. I’ve painted the school twice, inside and out. I’ve cut hedges, pruned shrubs and done tree surgery work. I’ve cleaned up sick and unblocked toilets – every member of staff has.”

So what can be done? Budget cuts have effected schools the breadth of the country. A recent Education Policy Institute report on the state of school finances in local authority and academy schools in England found that almost a third of local authority maintained secondary schools are in deficit.

The EIS believes that schools should campaign to improve or restore school cleaning services, stating that, for local authority run schools, councils owe a duty of care to staff and a lack of adequate cleaning services is resulting in ill health and staff and pupil absenteeism. The EIS has also said it will publicise and highlight the extent of the reduction in cleaning standards in recent years and the effect it is having within schools.