Wednesday, 19 March 2008

0-60 in the blink of an eye

Well my prediction that last week would be busy was correct. Last Friday at the D&B meeting someone as an aside asked whether we were ready for work to start on site this week. Mistaking this for a slightly sarcastic comment on the lack of progress I giggled weakly. Later on in the meeting I realised it was no joke. The builders really did want to start on site this week.

As it happens Wilmott Dixon's JCB's all appear to be tied up on a project down the road this week, but next Tuesday it seems there will finally be some action. This was completely unexpected because the Governing Body still haven't agreed to enter the programme. There has been some sort of agreement on who will underwrite the costs of ground works should the project not go ahead, and I know it won't be the school, so it's all systems go at our end. Basically if work doesn't start next week it puts the whole programme in jeopardy, which would cost rather more than digging and then filling back in a few trenches in the playground, and cancelling a substantial order with Portakabin.

Of course, this means it all feels very real now. This evening I went over the decant proposals with the Leadership Team. Everyone knew it was going to be tough but there were a few shocked faces. It looks as if everything works, though. The curriculum is pretty much protected, but I think it's fair to say that the non-teaching spaces will be very cosy. I'm going to e-mail the plans around to the middle management team tomorrow, and then hide under my desk for a while. I've also got the thorny issue of how to deal with reductions in staff parking to deal with. We're really fortunate in that currently anyone who wants to drive to school can park on site. This will soon end, and there are a lot of staff with a lot of compelling reasons why they should be allocated a parking spot. I am going to be so unpopular!

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 19/03/08 Sixty-five

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Tense Times.

I think we really are heading towards the beginning of the end. Financial close, which was originally supposed to be December 19th, now appears to be mid-April (which is actually after the temporary accommodation is due to rumble on site). I can't see that it can drift past that time without causing major problems. At our end the pace is suddenly really picking up, and we've had a very odd couple of weeks indeed due to desperation on everyone's part to get things resolved.

If you've been following this blog you'll know there are a few major issues where we have not yet had agreement. This week the Governing Body was called to a meeting with the Chief Executive, the Councillor leading on BSF and the Head of Children's Services in order to try and tie up a few loose ends with our school. The meeting had a very reasonable tone, but I'm not sure how much further forward we were at the end of it, as a couple of issues were raised that we hadn't realised involved the school. We're meeting again next week, and we'll see where that takes us.

We also had a session with the architects where we were presented with a list of items that were contributing to the "affordabilility gap" and were asked whether we could do without them. Lingo Bingo fans will want to know that this is known as "value engineering". We didn't agree to all the proposals, but I would imagine that we engineered a lot of value.

Earlier on the same day we had a rare event - a meeting that was originally scheduled for 4 hours, got reduced to 2 and ended up only taking an hour-and-a-half (half an hour of which spent chatting while a group went and stared at the server room). This was an ICT meeting about the decant. Reasonable proposals were put on the table, we all agreed to them and that was pretty much that.

The major concern for me at the moment is that we're supposed to be approaching agreement on everything by Friday. As things stand that seems like a tall order, although far less impossible than some of the other deadlines we've had in the past. I think it's going to be a really busy week though.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 7/03/08 Sixty.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Consultation, consultation, consultation...

In my last post about things I had learnt I didn't mention consultation. I thought this probably warranted a post on it's own.

If I look back on the consultation we have undertaken, I would mark us as "could do better - but quite good under the circumstances".

The Initial Phases

This started almost three years ago before I joined the school. Staff, Governors and students were all involved in creating and commenting on the vision document. This is really important but I found the whole "Vision" phase (which I also undertook in my previous school) a bit woolly. It includes sweeping statements, such as "We want an ICT rich school" or "We want an inclusive school", rather than "We want an additional 2 classrooms to accommodate the diploma" or "We want to have disabled access to every classroom in the school". In our case this woolliness is returning to haunt us as heated debates on the meaning of inclusion rage around us.

We then had items in the school newsletter, held a special parents meeting, had all KS3 students indertake a BSF project, presented regularly to staff and kept BSF on Governing Body, Middle Management and Leadership Team agendas. A refererence scheme, which demonstrated that our requirements could be met given site and budget constraints was drawn up ... and then we hit the competition phase.

The Competition Phase

This is where it all goes quiet on the consultation front. Anyone involved with or informed about the project has to sign a confidentiality agreement, which completely limits the number of people you can involve. To me, this is one of the major flaws of the BSF process, because this phase is crucial in deciding what will eventually happen within the school, but you can't involve many people in case they accidentally let information slip to a rival bidder. Believe me, this is easy. Even now I still occasionally think our final bidders offered something that was actually offered by the other bidders. The problem is, when you then move into the final bid phase, there are quite a lot of major areas that have already been fixed. Luckily we haven't had too much trouble with larger elements of the proposals, but there is certainly potential for this to happen.

The Final Bid Phase

This is where the proposals are launched to the wider community. We've been very busy during this phase.

Governors: The Governing Body have been informed fully at every stage of the programme, in fat it's engulfed many a meeting over the past few months. The Chair and the Chair of Finance have been in constant touch with the project, but have become more deeply involved at this stage. Governors drew up a list of requirements that had to be met before they agree finally to enter BSF (which they still haven't yet).

Parents & The Community: We had an initial parental/community consultation, and a follow-up meeting where changes made as a result of the first consultation were demonstrated. We also had a smaller, more in-depth, meeting with those parents who had expressed concerns. There is an item on the school website, and this blog was launched as a means of communicating progress to parents and the wider community. We have a regular update in the school newsletter. You have to bear in mind that parents are, quite rightly, mainly concerned with the effect the project will have on their child. This means that those whose children will have left before building works are over may be unhappy.

Staff: The plans went on display in the school reception area. We have had initial 1:1 consultation meetings with each department and should be having our second meeting soon. This is one of the areas I have found the trickiest as you are having to deal with the fact that staff may have wanted more from the project. You are also walking a bit of a tightrope in terms of balancing the needs & desires of different curriculum areas against each other and the project constraints. We discuss the project regularly as a leadership and middle management team.

Students: This is the area I enjoy the most. The Guardian had a BSF supplement this week, and there was an item on student consultation and the work of the Sorrell Foundation. We managed to wangle a session with the Sorrell Foundation. They're really busy and they're mainly concentrating on schools in the later BSF waves, but I think it was good to come in later. Why? Because the BSF process is so slow. As a result of starting in July we have a student design group that will probably see us through to construction and beyond. If we'd started the group over two years ago, many of them would have left and we certainly would have lost momentum. It's a shame they couldn't be more involved in the actual designs (I wonder whether the Guardian examples were working on PFI where there was maybe just one bidder), but they've been very involved in the landscaping proposals, and we're about to start work on the recycling strategy and the dining spaces. They also communicate to the wider student body about the work they do.

So, in summary, consultation is a good thing, but you need to manage expectations, balance agendas and be very aware that there are important phases where it just can't happen properly, and stakeholders will feel out of the loop. I'd love to know whether this problem has now been ironed out for schools in later waves.

Meeting Count 2/11/07 - 29/02/08 Fifty-Six - it's still really slow.