Monday, 24 December 2007

Brussel Sprouts Forever

A few people, my long-suffering husband included, have hinted that I use the Festive Break to completely get away from BSF. I couldn't resist bringing the decant and phasing plans home in case I need something to fill an idle moment. I've also purchased a book called "The Honeywood File" as suggested by a comment contributing parent on this page, which I plan to read. I think I'll conceal it in a copy of Heat, so no-one knows what I'm really doing. I suspect hauling the family off to look at fine examples of core-ten will be a step too far, though, although if we do happen to go to Marylebone High Street, I don't see any harm in us accidentally wandering past the school at the top of the road that uses it. I'll withhold the post I was going to write on the PfS commissioned independent report on BSF until the New Year, and hope I don't accidentally do it when filled with a bit too much festive cheer.

One of my colleagues suggested in my Christmas Card that, for the next few days only, BSF should stand for Brussel Sprouts Forever. Alternatives I've thought of include:

Being Santa's Friend
Big Snow Flurries
Bloomin' Seasonal Festivities
Being Seen by Family
Blasted Stocking Fillers

I'm sure I could come up with a few more, but I think that's quite sad enough already. I'm off to peel potatoes.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

BSF - Designed by Vogons

I've been threatening for quite a while to write a post on the nightmare that is the BSF process. Well, it's Sunday evening and I'm in the mood. It's going to be a bit long and ranty.

I think the short way of expressing the problems is to say that I've been at my current school for over two years. The BSF process had started a few months before I joined and we still haven't quite agreed to a set of plans for the school or, for that matter, that we're committed to joining the process. If we'd just been given £21million and told to improve the school with it:

a) We'd probably be almost finished.
b) We would have actually had £21million spent on the school (instead of the £18million we end up with).

Instead we've had loads of visions, lots of consultation (though probably not of the right sort) and heaps of meetings. See my post dated 3 December for an idea of the quantity of meetings. It is the most crazy waste of public money that I've ever come across, and very few people involved in the process disagree. The preferred bidders we're working with have always seemed to be very open about the costs, and have told us that all the bid costs will be recouped from the Hackney BSF "pot". I know approximately what the costs are, but wonder whether putting the figure in the public domain would break commercial confidentiality, so I won't. Suffice to say the figure is big! That's just the bidder costs. In my more impish moments I consider putting in a Freedom of Information request about the costs to the Council Tax payers of Hackney.

Here is a list of things I don't like about the process:
  • It's enormously time consuming, particularly in terms of meetings.
  • It's enormously bureaucratic and expensive.
  • It patronises schools by suggesting they couldn't do these things alone.
  • If you go into BSF having your ICT services taken over by the private sector is compulsory. In theory handing over Facilities Management is optional, but in practice it's very difficult to retain them.
  • There is more than one layer of profit involved in all of these services, hence value for money is questionable at best.
  • Although the process is supposed to be "transformational", it's not clear what this term is supposed to mean.
  • Some parts of the process are just ridiculous. The Design Quality Indicators spring to mind as a low point (I may write something on this another time).
  • It's constrained by something called Building Bulletin 1998 (BB98). This is a formula that tells us how much space we should have. It doesn't allow for the types of extended services we would love to have on site - bases for Housing & Social Services, a creche etc.
  • It goes against the increase in school autonomy that LMS brought.
  • There is potential for budgetary problems in around seven years time when the ICT contract ends.
  • We all know about the horrors that privatisation of services can bring.
  • The bids were a million words each. The contracts are probably similar in size. Many trees have died for this process.
  • It engulfs my working life to the extent where it's occasionally hard to keep on top of other aspects of my job. Sometimes I dream about BSF.
And in the interest of balance, here's what I like about the BSF:

  • There will be much needed improvements to the premises. No leaky roofs etc.
  • Many of the architectural problems with the building will be ironed out.
  • It's been a tremendous learning curve. I know loads more about architecture than I did two years ago.
  • I'm looking forward to having a Help Desk for Facilities Management and ICT. I think there will be improvement in services.
  • I really like the proposals for the new block. I think it will look great.
  • I've met loads of really good people over the past couple of years. Some are real characters, some have taught me a lot and one of them took us on a lovely narrow boat trip on the canals of London (don't worry - no Labour Party-esque dodginess involved).
  • And, most importantly I believe it's aims are good. Ultimately it should provide a better learning environment for our students and allow us to focus on delivering the best education possible rather than dealing with dodgy plumbing. In short it's a good idea, extremely poorly executed.
Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 14/12/07 Thirty-three (plus a Governing Body Meeting that I'm not counting)

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Something from the Chair

It's time for a new voice. Here's something Henry, our Chair of Governors, copied me into recently.

"My last email set me wondering on how the headship recruitment would have gone if it was run like BSF.

Well, we would have a rigid process imposed on us, had to hold around 50 meetings on it, would have had the job description changed without informing us - just before it was sent out, The vote on who to choose would have happened while we were out of the room for a break and key
elements of our requirements would not have been communicated at all

And of course we couldn't have advertised for just a headteacher. To ensure economies of scale we would have had to advertise for a package including a headteacher, ICT support staff, cleaners and caretakers - and we would simply have had to accept the headteacher that came with the rest of the package. and have had to sign a 10 year contract before we could replace them.

what fun that would have been...."

I think that gives a good flavour of our frustrations with the process.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 11/12/07 Thirty (and one of those lasted five hours)

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Are we nearly there yet?

Next week Governors meet and the aim was that they would be making the final decision about whether or not to enter BSF. As I've inferred before, I would be amazed if Governors feel they can make this decision

I've just had a conversation with our friendly local Education Advisor, who asked me where we are with the list of Governors' issues, so I thought it might be helpful to update the post from 6 November. In true Top of the Pops style, the positions last month are shown in brackets with coloured writing.

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)
Central ICT hosting (↑ we still don't like it, but it's much cheaper)
Specialist ICT equipment (↑ don't know what we'll get, but we know how to get it)
ICT "interim services" offer (↑)
Demonstration the BSF ICT Strand will offer a clear improvement on current provision (↑ Nick feels the current offer will result in improvement, although we are resigned to subsidising capital outlay)
Clarity on how accidental damage and vandalism will be dealt with (↑)
Clarity on the Facilities Management Variant Bid (↑ Getting clarity was like pulling teeth, because no-one really wanted us to take it, but we got it in the end. We then decided actually, everyone was right, we didn't really want it, but that wasn't the point.)
FM Interim Services Offer (↑)

Stakeholder involvement (but needs to continue)
Clarity on ICT funding levels at end of initial contract period
Office/workroom spaces
Covering of courtyard (↑ we know we're not going to have it covered. That might not have been what we wanted, but at least we know the score)
Changing rooms (↑ Location resolved - size/layout still to be worked on)
Build timescale (↑ This is clearer, though sadly not what we announced at Thursday's parent meeting. We have yet to see a fully worked up Decant and Phasing proposal, though)
Building fully accessibly (↑ it still isn't and may never be, but we've now agreed an approach)
Energy saving/environmental impact (↑ I have now glanced at what's known as a BREEAM assessment, and it comes in as "Very good", but have not yet seen or discussed the full detail)
Level of ICT Technical Support (↑ This has improved to the extent where we can recommend it, but we're cynical that it will work long term)
Access to ICT network for Media Web & Music Technicians (↑ I don't feel this has been fully discussed, but we feel there won't be any obstructions)
Inspirational challenging design for the school reflective of school specialism (↑ we have a design we really like, but it may not be affordable)


Value for money/market testing (there are two teams of Quantity Surveyors working frantically on this, though and we have on occasion been reminded that it's not the school's money! All involved acknowledge that this process will never offer value for money)
Quality of materials (still not yet discussed)
Liaison between Design and Build & Facilities Management (I've been told it's happened, but have not seen any evidence of it)
Discussion needed on how Local Education Partnership (LEP) processes will work once BSF is in operation (will anyone ever talk to us about this).

So, as you can see there has been lots of upward movement, but some fairly major issues still not fully resolved. Although our Governing Body are very much their own people, I would imagine that they would be prepared to be flexible if there were a couple of minor matters outstanding, but that there will be too much that is still "unknown" to allow them to agree formally to enter BSF on Wednesday. In fact, matters listed above aside, we're not in a position to sign of the Legal Agreement, as there is still a great deal of documentation still missing.

When I started this Blog I suggested that it might be short lived if Governors didn't sign up at the end of November. It now appears I will be continuing at least until the New Year. I wonder where the meeting count will be by then? I can hardly bear the tension.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Notes on Meetings

As this blog is now a month old I thought it would be interesting to look more closely at the meeting count to date.

Why the count?

BSF is enormously bureaucratic. At one stage earlier this year we did a rough meeting count and it was well into the hundreds over a period of two years. I thought a meeting count would be a simple way of illustrating how intensive the process is. Admittedly things are particularly busy at the moment, but I think high levels of meetings will continue for at least another year. It would be impossible to keep track of the amount of time consumed by BSF outside of meetings, but it's a lot. Probably at least the amount of time spent in meetings.

What counts as a meeting?

For the purposes of this blog it's any scheduled meeting where the main focus is some aspect of BSF. I haven't counted meetings where it was one agenda item amongst many, and I haven't counted inpromptu discussions, of which there are many. I've only counted meetings involving me, which are most of the meetings related to Stoke Newington School, although there have been a couple of ICT meetings that have just been attended by the Network Manager. I haven't counted meetings that have been cancelled, because that would be cheating. I also didn't count a BSF social event or the session with prospective Headteachers.

What types of meeting are there?

Lots! And to illustrate this, here are some statistics since the start of this blog. Sorry if this is a bit sad. I promise, I do have a life.

Total number of hours spent in meetings: 51
Longest meeting: 4 hours
Shortest meeting: 1 hour
Number of working days since 2/11: 22
Total number of BSF meeting free working days: 4
Most meetings in one day: 4 on 27th November
Number of meetings off site: 7

Meeting Topics: Design & Build 10
Facilities Management 2
Staffing 2
Legal 2
General/consultation 5

And in Conclusion....

.... BSF involves a whole heap of meetings! Of course we knew that anyway. Meetings involving me are a small percentage of total meetings for Hackney BSF, and this really isn't intended to be a "poor me" aspect of the blog. All three Phase 1 schools will be having the same numbers of meetings, and there are masses that go on in the background involving a cast of thousands. I'm afraid this is a process that lends itself to enormous numbers of meetings. Now the cost of these meetings? Well, that's a subject for another post (but one four hour meeting was attended by 19 people).

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 3/12/07 - Twenty-Five