Maintaining the school estate

The ‘Good estate management for schools’ guide from the Department for Education gives advice on how to effectively maintain the school estate as well as plan new projects. Education Business shares some information from the guide.

The Department for Education has released a guide on good and cost-effective estates management.

The ‘Good estate management for schools’ (GEMS) guidance allows schools to assess their current arrangements and identify where improvements can be made.

It covers issues ranging from guidance on health and safety management to advice on how to minimise energy and water usage.

It also includes a set of self-assessment questions to help headteachers and governing boards to gauge where they are doing well and which areas require more attention.

There is also information on the important policies and processes that schools should have in place, guidance on how to plan estate projects, and tips on making the most of property assets.

Maintaining the estate

School buildings are an important and valuable long-term asset. They may also be open to the public as community facilities. Facilities managers should therefore plan for and maintain the buildings so they are safe, warm, weatherproof and provide a suitable teaching and learning environment.

Increasing pressure on resources can lead to cuts in a school’s maintenance budget. An evidence-based maintenance plan can help you understand the impact of any budget reductions.

Having clear stewardship and maintenance regimes for all buildings will ensure they remain safe and that the value of the asset is protected.

Poor or irregular maintenance of school buildings can result in adverse effects on the provision of education, closure of buildings and invalidation of insurance, to name some.

Maintenance of land and buildings is often categorised as either planned preventative maintenance (PPM) or reactive maintenance. You should consider the balance between PPM and reactive maintenance. It is recognised good practice to allocate PPM and reactive maintenance budgets in the region of a 70:30 ratio (CIPFA).

Information needed for maintenance planning

The estate might include buildings of different ages and construction types. These will all have different requirements and challenges for undertaking maintenance and repairs.

If a building is of historic interest or is listed in a conservation area there may be more stringent controls when carrying out maintenance work, which may require permission.

Accurate data about the condition of buildings is the starting point for longer-term maintenance planning.

You’ll need a variety of information about the estate, such as fire safety measures, location of hydrants, location of utility meters and incoming services.

A plan of the site with utilities information such as mains drainage, stopcocks, cabling and isolation points, will also be required.

An inventory of important components and their life expectancy, such as boilers and pipework will be needed, as will up-to-date statutory compliance records.

A schedule of maintenance contracts such as annual portable appliance testing (PAT), gas safety, boiler maintenance and fire measures will be needed, as will building condition surveys and asbestos management surveys and plans.

This information may already be held by your organisation. For school with religious character, information may be held by the trustees of the school or the relevant Church of England or Catholic diocese.

Condition surveys

Condition relates to the physical condition of buildings in the estate. This is determined by undertaking condition surveys.

Condition surveys are normally non-intrusive surveys, carried out by suitably qualified professionals. They cover five-year planning periods for the purpose of strategic estate management.

Condition surveys will help you to identify what work is needed to maintain the estate, consider how much works might cost, prioritise work within available funds, and understand if the nature of the buildings change.

Academy trusts, dioceses or local authorities may carry out condition surveys on behalf of their schools and prepare a long-term maintenance programme.

The condition survey should identify specific building condition issues, deficiencies and maintenance requirements for aspects such as the roof or windows and doors.

It should also provide an estimated cost for repair or replacement.

Condition surveys should identify critical elements that may require further investigation. This would include possible structural problems and health and safety risks.

Any condition and maintenance issues that are identified should be prioritised using condition grading and prioritisation ratings, as per industry standard.

Consider how frequently buildings should be surveyed. This will depend on the condition, age and the type of buildings.

Identify critical elements that need to be inspected on a regular basis to minimise the impact on school accessibility and the risk of closure of the estate.

If you need to undertake any refurbishment work in a building that contains asbestos, you may need to commission a refurbishment and demolition survey.

Maintenance planning

Planned and prioritised maintenance is an important part of strategic estate management. To support this you should have an overall maintenance plan for the estate and a plan for day-to-day planned maintenance.

These will help you develop an estate strategy and asset management plan (AMP).

As part of your planning, you should consider the cost-benefit of replacing items that incur significant and ongoing maintenance costs.

Your maintenance plan may cover a five-year period, but should schedule a list of works to be undertaken in each year. These should be based on the current condition of the buildings, identified from condition surveys.

Prioritise works in your maintenance plan, taking account of any legal duties or works which may impact health, safety or security.

When planning longer-term works, you should take account of the findings of regular maintenance cycles. This allows you to plan and budget effectively, minimising the risk of failure.

A clear plan for managing any works will help to minimise risk and disruption to the running of your school premises.

Procuring and managing maintenance works

Maintenance work will include relatively minor works as well as larger projects.

You may have responsibilities under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM). This will depend on the type, scale and complexity of the works.

Planning for smaller jobs should be simple, short and proportionate to the risks.

You may wish to enter an arrangement with a professional technical advisor or property consultant. They will be able to advise you independently on building fabric and building services issues.

This may be advisable if you are considering maintenance projects such as a capital repair or replacement based on comprehensive condition surveys or need an independent assessment of repair or replacement works recommended by maintenance contractors. This may also be advisable if you have concerns about the safety of systems or need accurate project cost plans.

If you do seek external advice, you should be aware of the possible application of procurement rules. This will depend on the value of the consultancy services. You may want to consider the use of frameworks to procure professional services.

Before undertaking any maintenance work, you should appoint a competent representative to manage and advise on contractor activities. The representative should have sufficient health and safety knowledge for the planned work and be available throughout the duration of the contractor’s activities.

Appoint a competent contractor who is experienced in the type of work you are planning and has liability insurance that reflects the risk involved. You should ask your contractor to explain how they will manage the risks they will create.

Your contractor should be able to explain the steps they will take, the risks at each step and the measures to control the risks and produce documents that are specific to your site and work activity.

You have a duty under CDM to provide contractors with relevant information about your estate, for example the asbestos register. This will enable work to be undertaken safely without risks to the contractor’s health or others.

You should agree with the contractor how the site should be set up. Any changes should be communicated, considered and agreed before being implemented.

Where a proposed change may increase risk, you should challenge this and get assurances that the risks are to be actively managed.

You may need to issue a work permit to authorise works to take place. This could relate to works with specific risks such as hot works.

Once the works commence, the person appointed to administer the contract should make sure that it is well managed. They should make sure that the terms of the contract are met, or any variations are formally agreed. This will help reduce or prevent the risk of errors, including over-charging. It will also ensure the work is delivered and achieves value for money and reduces the risk of contractual disputes.

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