Thursday, 29 November 2007

Quick Progress Report

I'm off for the next few days, but just wanted to do a quick update.

There will be a further BSF parent consultation event next Thursday (6th December) at 6pm at the school. There will be a brief run through the plans for anyone who wasn't at the previous meeting, but the main focus will be responding to the comments arising from the Parent/Community meeting held on 30 October.

The Governors' Resourcing and Community Committee met on Tuesday. This meeting had originally been scheduled to allow the committee to discuss all the BSF proposals in depth so they could make recommendations to full Governing Body meeting the following day. As there are a few pretty major areas of the design and build still unresolved the committee only looked at the Facilities Management and ICT aspects of the bid in depth. The feeling was that these were much better and we are heading towards something we can accept. Will we have reached something we can accept on Design and Build by December 12th? Personally I'd be amazed, but we have seen BSF rabbits plucked from hats before now, so let's see.

There's lots going on next week, so watch that meeting count rise.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 29/11/07 - Twenty-Four

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Jumping on Lilos

I've likened BSF to jumping on a lilo. You iron out one area and another pops up. We had a really positive (small) Design and Build meeting on Friday, but I'm now worried about the Facilities Management (FM) strand. This strand had been pretty steady for ages, but I was sent the report for Governors through the other day and discovered a few areas where there were either major omissions or where the contents were concerning. The scheduled FM meeting on Friday was cancelled, so my concerns were dispatched via e-mail. Here's a list of things that still need sorting. Hold on tight - it's pretty scary:
  • Landscaping
  • Decant and Phasing
  • TUPE
  • Legal agreements
  • Elevations
  • Room Data Sheets
  • The "Semi-Frozen Scheme" versus the "Governors Scheme"
  • FM - the Variant Bid
  • FM - phasing of interim service
  • Student consultation

Sorted:

  • The ICT bid (as far as possible - although Governors have yet to agreed the offer)

There are other areas that aren't yet resolved, such as parental consultation, but where we at least know where we're heading.

We're supposed to have all the above resolved in time for the Governors' Meeting on December 12th. Will we manage it? I can hardly bear the tension! It seems there's loads of lilo jumping to do.

On a completely separate note I was doing my regular bout of volunteering at a local community bookshop on Saturday, and was introduced to a customer who just happens to be a Learning Trust lawyer dealing with BSF. We spent an entertaining couple of minutes chatting about it, but there is no escape. BSF is everywhere.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 23/11/07 - Seventeen

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Wrangling over Walls

Today was another busy BSF Day. This morning the Chair (Henry) and I met with some of the parents who had expressed most concerns about the project. I don't think we could say that all their fears were allayed, but they were happier with the decant plans. Over and over again we keep coming back to value for money and some day soon I will steel myself and write my general BSF process rant. The other big things were changing rooms and lockers. There are a lot of people who really want improvements in the plans for changing rooms. Of all the "extras" I think that's the one that seems the highest priority. There is also a bit of a debate going on about lockers. Again, probably a subject for another post. After the meeting I wandered the school with the person who's arranging the decant and we tried to think a bit laterally about some of the issues.

I then met with the Head and hatched plans (but for the purposes of clarity this was a random discussion and won't be included in my meeting count).

We then had our last set of 1:1 meetings with Heads of Department, which were generally positive. My big fear has always been that there will be classrooms missing, and I don't that's going to happen. Having had these discussions we were able finally to look at work and meeting space. Things are obviously getting a bit tight financially as we ended up wrangling a bit over walls. It was pretty good natured, but it went something like this:

Me: Couldn't we put a wall up here (in nebuland for those who know the plans) and create more office spaces.

Lovely Architect: Well, it's a matter of cost.

Me: But look, we've taken these walls out here. Can't they just be moved over to nebuland instead.

Lovely Architect: I don't think it's affordable.

Me: Well, how about we do this. This saves us a door as well as some walls.

Lovely Architect: (makes general negative noises) etc. etc. You get the drift.

It's the dawning of a new, tougher era.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 22/11/07 - Sixteen

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A little something some students made earlier

video

Apparently written while practicing on the stairs and with no prompting by staff whatsoever. I look forward to drama lobbying by staging productions in the car park.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

A Bad Couple of Days

Well a couple of weeks back we had the swings, so this week we got the roundabouts.

On Thursday we met with the independent solicitors who have been engaged to act on the part of the schools. It's really comforting to have them there, but the amount of ground that needs to be covered before financial close just feels overwhelming. We were looking at the Governors' Agreement, which in itself is quite a small document. The problem is that it refers to four other documents, and the clear advice from the solicitors is that someone from the school needs to be familiar with the contents of these documents. Unlike the Governors' Agreement these documents will not be small, and the person who will need to be familiar with these documents is me. The solicitors will also be reading them and providing us with a commentary, so that's useful, but there's no getting around the fact that they'll need to be read.

Friday was a very full day of BSF meetings. In the morning we carried on with the 1:1 meetings with Heads of Department. The idea is that we look at the spaces allocated and the ICT/Equipment requirements for each area of the school. This was the second set of meetings (we'll have at least one more set). The first set went pretty smoothly but now we're starting to hit a couple of problems. I'm pretty sure that no department will be worse off than they are at the moment. They all should have the same number of spaces, and they'll be newly kitted out and completely refurbished. The thing is that firstly some people had hoped for much more and that secondly there will be a huge amount of disruption while we get there. I'm going to have to draft someone in to make decision on whose need is the greatest in terms of curriculum needs.

In the afternoon a cast of thousands (including the Chair and incoming Head) turned up for the weekly Design and Build meeting. By the end of the meeting I was feeling pretty glum. The good news was that:
  • planning's been submitted.
  • decant and phasing plans are better than they were.
  • there's a plan called the "Governors' Scheme" that covers almost everything we'd want.

The bad news was that:

  • the Corten elevations are going to cost around £236,000 more than there is in the budget. The thought of revisiting the elevations is thoroughly depressing to me and, no doubt, to the architects and anyway these are the elevations that have been submitted for planning. No-one's quite sure what will happen. We'll find out next week.
  • I'm still not happy with the landscaping. It's an area that has been much neglected. We had a great meeting with the student design group and, to me, their input was almost completely ignored.
  • it seems some of the Department Heads may have a struggle on their hands to get their rooms kitted out in the way they've requested. Again, I think I need a curriculum "referee", and quickly.
  • the "Governors Scheme", which offers 100% accessibility and changing rooms where we want them amongst other desirable things, will cost over £250k more than there is in the budget. Again, who knows what the answer will be to this.
  • the decant and phasing plans that appear at first glance to be workable will result in an increase in temporary accommodation which again will cost rather more than budgeted for. Money that you by now will have figured out isn't there.
  • there's a huge amount of work to do on the rooms data sheets (which itemise what will be in every single room of the building and need to be thoroughly checked).
  • there's a huge amount of work to do generally! Financial close by December 19th seems impossible. My life seems swamped by BSF, and I'm sure it would be impossible to underestimate how much work everyone else involved is putting in.

After over 8 solid hours in BSF meetings I was feeling very huffy by the end of Friday. I blame a lot of this on the BSF process itself, of which more later. That's quite enough grumbling for now. Let's hope next week's better.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 16/11/07 - Thirteen

Thursday, 15 November 2007

A quick update

Just a quick update as I want to keep in the habit of posting every 2/3 days.

The date for Governor sign-up has been moved as we know that there are certain aspects of the plans that won't be "approvable" by November 28th. The proposals may be better, but we won't have had the opportunity to consult fully.

We're therefore aiming for Governors to meet on December 12th, with Parent/Community consultation possibly on the 6th December.

I'm currently awash with paper. Documents are coming in thick and fast. Tonight we're meeting the independent solicitors that have been engaged to act on behalf of the Governing Body, so anything legal generates paper, although their comments are very user friendly. I'm also preparing paperwork to send out to staff who are likely to be transferred (meeting this time next week). Large papers on ICT, FM and Design & Build have also pinged into my inbox. So enough of this blogging, let paper shuffling commence!

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 15/11/07 - Eleven and a celebration.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Consultation

We've pretty much been consulting on and off for over two years, but it's really key now. One of the problems with the process is that during the competition phase, where we had two bidders, we couldn't consult very much at all because of "commercial confidence" i.e. not being able to risk one bidder finding out what the other was doing. This has meant that, although over a year ago we met with parents, staff, students to ask what they would like, it's only now that we can show the final proposals to them and get their feedback. We are, as usual, working on a very tight timetable and governors are absolutely clear, and quite rightly, that they won't approve entry into BSF until they feel we have had full consultation with stakeholder groups.

So far we have had:
  • A meeting with student council representatives with a particular focus on landscaping.
  • A parent & community consultation evening.
  • A staff drop-in session.
  • The first of many individual meetings with Heads of Department.
  • A support staff meeting with a BSF focus.
  • Plans displayed in the foyer and me pouncing on any students who make the mistake of showing too much interest. My lovely laminated explanatory labels didn't even last a day, so verbal explanations it has to be!

Frankly the list looks long, but we'll have to do more. Staff consultation's going well, with most staff happy (or not too unhappy) with what they're getting. Problems have arisen, but they're resolvable so far. There will, as ever, have to be compromises though.

We need more student consultation. We need to know that what the students suggested was listened to and acted upon, and this hasn't been demonstrated yet. I don't want to do lipservice constulation, particularly with the students. Their ideas were good and reasonable and they're a great group.

We definitely need another parent and community evening, and we've got one pencilled in for November 22nd. I guess during our first consultation evening we had around 30 people attending which, given that we did an invite for each student to take home, followed it up by text and leafleted local homes (which gave me renewed admiration for those who do that for a living), I thought was low. The major cause of controversy here were the levels of disruption that would be caused during building works. I guess for many parents their children will be hit by over two years of disruption, then leave and won't be around to enjoy the benefits. Even taking that into account, though, the parents were shown plans that even the school thinks are too disruptive and unworkable, and we need to go back to them with new plans. You've also got to feel for the residents of Clissold Rd who've had years of the inconvenience caused by construction works on the Leisure Centre. This finally comes to a halt, they get a few months of peace and in rumble the BSF trucks. We absolutely need to do our best to minimise disruption for them, because generally they're very supportive.

Again, writing this makes me realise how much ground needs to be covered in such a short space of time. Will we do it? Watch this space.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 9/11/07 - EIGHT (plus two hours on BSF with the prospective Headteachers, but I won't count that)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

ICT Services

For those of you who aren't familiar with the BSF process let me explain that as part of the scheme the school has to take the ICT services. Facilities Management services are theoretically optional, but ICT services aren't.

This element of the project more than any other has caused great consternation across the school community. We're pretty proud of our ICT. It's not perfect, but we have a great team in place (one of whom, Nick, our Network Manager, is likely to start posting on this Blog pretty soon) and I think things move on in leaps and bounds here. The idea of losing control, staff and, in particular, creative potential is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to eventual participation of the school in the whole BSF project.

I don't think we'll ever be persuaded that the ICT side of BSF is a good thing for us. If it was that great, the Government wouldn't need to make it compulsory because schools would all be champing at the bit to buy in. There will be a large amount of capital investment and there will be savings to schools for a few years, but in our case much of the investment will go on replacing cabling that's been ripped out by the building works. Anyway, rant over. All involved have heard the SNS rant many times now.

Basically Governors will need to decide whether these issues, together with the others that arise from the project, have the potential to make such a major negative impact on the school that they outweight the positives.

Earlier this week there were two meetings to look at movement on the ICT offer. I don't think I can go into too much detail here, because we haven't yet had final confirmation from RM (the potential ICT provider), but it looks as if they are approaching a solution that will reduce costs for central services, and resolve worries that we had about staffing levels here. We also had discussion about what might happen to the ICT team when they're transferred to RM, which again I can't go into too much detail about, but allayed some of my fears. We were given a draft of the document which will go to the governing body, which covers many areas that have been concerning in just enough depth, but seems pretty open and honest. We also flagged up a few areas, such as training and kit, which will need to be gone into in depth after "financial close" on December 19th.

Anyway, just as a teaser, here are some of the topics I'll be covering in the next few posts:
  • TUPE Transfer
  • Consultation
  • Facilities Management
  • Kitting out Rooms
  • Lawyers
  • The Sign-up process
  • The BSF process (likely to be another rant)

Bet that's whetted your appetites.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 8/11/07 - SEVEN

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A Good Couple of Days

We seem to have made a lot of progress over the past couple of days. Monday morning Henry (the Chair) and I met with Mouchelparkman Babcock (MPB) to go over the list of Governors' Requirements and to check what progress has been made since September. Of course, not everything's resolved, but a lot has moved on. Reprinting the whole list in a blog is probably a bit impractical (the full list can be found on the SNS website), but to summarise, subject to further staff consultation, the feeling is:

RESOLVED -
  • SEN spaces
  • not losing a gym
  • TV studio near media/english classrooms
  • configuration of staffroom/reprographics room
  • use of "L" block/boilerhouse, school to be involved in recruiting new staff
  • number/size of classrooms (pending staff consultation)
  • circulation (pending staff consultation)
LOOKING MUCH BETTER -
  • inspirational challenging design for the school reflective of school specialism
  • circulation, number/size of classrooms
  • stakeholder involvement (but needs to continue)
  • Central ICT hosting
  • specialist ICT equipment
  • clarity on ICT funding levels at end of initial contract period
  • ICT "interim services" offer
  • office/workroom spaces
WORK STILL NEEDED -

  • Value for money/market testing
  • location of changing rooms (although there is a potential solution for this)
  • covering of courtyard
  • build timescale
  • quality of materials (not yet discussed)
  • building fully accessible (although has gone from 5% to 85% accessible and full curriculum can be accessed)
  • energy saving/environmental impact,
  • liaison between Design and Build & Facilities Management
  • level of technical support (again, I hear there are proposals afoot)
  • access to ICT network for media, music & web technicians
  • demonstration the BSF ICT strand will offer a clear improvement in current provision
  • clarity on how accidental damage and vandalism will be dealt with
  • clarity on the Facilities Management "Variant Bid"
  • FM "interim services" offer
  • discussion needed on how Local Education Partnership (LEP) processes will work once BSF is in operation.

Sorry if some of this is in unintelligable "BSF Speak". It's a bit unavoidable in this post. Ask me through the comments box if you need any clarification.

It may look as if the list of unresolved areas is long, but we also came up with a plan to deal with most of these by the 28th November. At least MPB are clear what we're looking for, and I know they're working furiously to present acceptable proposals.

We have also had some really positive movement on ICT and I had a good meeting with support staff yesterday, but I think this post is quite long enough, so more on that in the next couple of days.

And finally, we hope to have a PTA led parent consultation evening on 22nd November. We need to check all concerned can make it, so the date is only provisional, but pencil it in and watch the website.

Meeting Count - 2/11/07 - 6/11/07 - FIVE

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Of Elevations, Decant and Phasing

There are lots of areas of the BSF plans for the school that haven't yet been settled, and some are bigger/more important than others. Yesterday I went to a meeting with the architects and builders together with the Chair of Governors. In particular there were two important areas we focussed on.

The appearance of the building (Elevations).

Anyone at the Community Consultation Evening will have heard the architects say how may revisions there had been to the elevations. Love it or loath it, it's a very strong building and deciding what to put next to it has caused huge difficulties. I must have seen around 15 versions of the plans. These versions have been discarded because either the school didn't like them, the planners didn't like them or they were unaffordable. I'd imagine there are a good few we never saw because the architects themselves discarded them. What was eventually submitted in the final bid was what is termed a "pastiche" of the exisiting building. When the Governing Body saw the proposal they felt it was uninspiring and so it was back to the drawing board again. Just before half term we were presented with a few options and there was unanimous agreement amongst those in the room that the architects should work on elevations using "corten". This is a type of steel that oxidises over the years without flaking, so the building will gradually change in appearance. The idea is that the reception and windows will have colour that contrasts strongly with this, and there will be lots of internal colour as well. Personally I think the plans are now coming along well and looking exciting. Let's hope everyone else agrees.

Decant & Phasing Plans


This is the stickiest area of work at the moment. Of course it's impossible to have an £18 million building project without some disruption to school life, but it's really important that this is kept to a manageable level and that good, creative teaching can continue. In addition every penny that is spent on temporary accommodation is a penny not spent on works to the school, which no-one wants. The current plans for decant of classrooms and phasing of works are not acceptable to the school and quite rightly caused consternation with parents. Yesterday we agreed some guidelines (e.g. making the most of the time when Year 11 and 13 have left the school, not taking out half of the school for an entire year, office staff being able to "camp out") and agreed a timeline for MPB to come up with some solutions that we think can be put back to parents again prior to the Governors' Meeting on November 28.

The next few weeks are going to be really intense for all concerned. One thing all involved are unanimously agreed on is the "clunkiness" of the BSF process, which is certainly the most bureaucratic thing I've ever been involved in in 18 years of local government employment. To illustrate this I'm going to show a "meeting count" starting from now. This will only be a count of the meetings I attend from now on. I go to most meetings relevant to the school, but there are a few regarding ICT that I don't attend. Life's too short to count the ones I've been to so far, so here goes:

BSF Meeting Count as at 2/11/07: ONE