Friday, 27 June 2008

Something Interesting on Edugeek

At the risk of looking like I'm developing the habit of getting other people to write my posts for me, here's something I just spotted on Edugeek:

I'll certainly be keeping an eye on progress here, as I'm sure will many others involved in BSF. If the school stands its ground and either pulls out or forces a change in ICT policy, there's a huge house of cards waiting to fall.

It's very hard to look the BSF Gift Horse in the mouth, but we have been close on a number of occasions. Handing our ICT over and losing our Network Manager (and eventually one other member of the ICT team) is the area that's always caused us the greatest concern. I think PfS know that many schools wouldn't do it willingly, which is why it is compulsory and would involve schools turning down millions of pounds of capital investment if they reject it. There have been times when we were really concerned that the proposed designs for the school didn't work and were poor value for money. We did some back of an envelope calculations and reckoned that over the 30 years of project life we would almost (but not quite) pay back all of the capital investment in additional ICT and FM costs.

Why didn't we pull out? The bottom line for us is that our roof hasn't been replaced in 40 years. Amazingly the week of the decant two ceilings finally gave up the ghost and bits of them caved in. Roof replacement alone was estimated at close to £1 million pounds. On top of that every winter when the heating gets turned on for the first time at least three of our very aged radiators leak. Half the radiators are stuck on or off so walking around the school is like wandering the many rooms of a spa treatment centre, but without the fluffy towels. Again, the heating system is as old as the school. I have no idea what replacement costs for the heating system would be, but it's going to be big money. Add to this the fact that some of the windows look as if they'd fall out if you sneeze in their direction (in fact on of the 6th form windows did fall in a while back) and the fact that anyone with a mobility problem can't make it past the reception and you can see the reason we're probably going to take the money. Despite all this I honestly think that, if the designs and other aspects of the project (including ICT proposals) hadn't improved, we would have pulled out and got the roof done by putting the school through a few years of financial hell.

Now for the rant, so feel free to skip a paragraph. If schools had proper capital investment over the past few decades, then we wouldn't be making this Faustian pact. A couple of times I've been told this is happening because schools don't direct their budgets properly. Unsurprisingly this makes me a little irate. Schools have only managed their own capital funding for around five years, which was never going to compensate for years of neglect. Just when we're sorting out our ICT networks, courtesy of specialist school ICT staff, and developing long-term capital plans, along comes BSF.

Now we still haven't signed up officially, despite half our school already been decanted/dug up/pulled to bits. There are still some pretty major concerns that need to be sorted out, and Governors won't sign the Governing Body Agreement until they are completely satisfied that they can live with what is being proposed. Hats off to the Head at Tollbar. It's a brave and bold move, but, if they hold firm, probably one someone needs to make. Presumably their school roof's not in imminent danger of caving in.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Management Speak

I'm too depressed to post in length about the decant at the moment, so here's something rather more upbeat and another opportunity to get someone to do my post for me.

Thanks to my Step-Dad for forwarding me this link from the BBC. He knows management speak gives me hours of pleasure.

As you can imagine, we have come across many examples of this during two years of BSF. There are two of my particular pet hates listed here. During one Bidder Presentation I found myself idly tallying the number of times the phrase "going forward" was said, and reached double figures. The other example listed is "drilling down", unless we really are discussing drilling methodology, which occasionally could happen on this type of project and in which case it's an acceptable phrase. I daren't be too sneering, though, because I almost asked someone to send me something by "close of play Friday" only today, and I have written evidence that I've used the phrase in the past.

Other phrases I have come across during the project include "value engineering", i.e. cutting something out of the plans or making it out of something cheaper. We have lots of "solutions" e.g. a laptop trolley solution = a laptop trolley. I find the phrase "at this moment in time" odd. By the time the phrase has been said that particular moment in time has already passed.

There are occasionally rather fun phrases as well. One of the men from Wilmott Dixon refers to something that's not quite right with a building (e.g. bulges or hanging wires) as a "feature". When someone's going to be "open and honest" I know to brace myself for bad news. They are always open and honest, though!

My absolute favourite phrase, which I have already referred to in a previous post, remains the description of a mess of ICT cables as "a snakes wedding". I had to poke around in some pretty old meeting notes to find the best/worst example of management speak. It was the opening phrase in the first ever ICT meeting with one of the bidders, and we were told they wanted to work at a "high embryonic level". I suspect it's going to be difficult to top this one, but I'll keep my ears peeled just in case.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Lessons Learnt from the Big Move

Well we're all in, although things are far from settled. My e-mail in-box is heaving and there's a very well-trodden path to my (rather cramped) office. Here are some tips on decant, some of which I did and some of which I wish I'd done.

  • "Like-for-like" is what schools should be offered for decant accommodation, but it's a rather woolly concept and you'll never really get exactly what you've left. As every penny spent on decant is a penny lost to the final building, you need to define exactly what like-for-like is and how flexible you're prepared to be.
  • If you feel too much is being crammed into too short a space of time, you're probably right. Ideally the temporary accommodation should be completed, then in goes the ICT network, then in goes the furniture and finally in goes the ICT. We did everything at once. It was bordering on chaos at times.
  • Be nice to each other, even when you're very near the end of your tether.
  • Have an individual conversation with each Team Leader involved in the room setting out exactly what they will be getting in temporary accommodation and the process for the move.
  • You really need to work through the plans of the building you're moving out of and check every single space to make sure someone "owns" it, and that it's got somewhere to go. We found departments who weren't really decanting had bits and pieces stored that needed moving/throwing away. Don't forget the cleaners cupboards. Oddly we didn't really have ownership of the staffroom, despite it belonging to everyone. This is now an area causing the most discontent amongst a usually very flexible staff and I have to confess I should have got the staff association on board earlier.
  • Negotiate timely and appropriate support from the LEP and Local Authority.
  • Ask for temporary accommodation with suited keys.
  • Work out the revised cleaning plans well in advance.
  • Get professionals to do room plans. I was very proud of my scale room plans, complete with cut-out scale desks, cupboards and filing cabinets. The professionals didn't look so impressed. Our Reprographics Technician, an ex-draughtswoman, did a tremendous job on her room plan and labelling and walked in to a room set out exactly as she had wanted it. Make staff do plans even if they don't think they want/need to.
  • Pay lots of attention to fixed shelving, benching and location of ICT ports and electrical sockets. Make sure you give this information to builders in a timely fashion and in an accessible format. Keep a close eye as these things go in.
  • No matter how hard you try, things will go wrong. Prepare staff for this and build in financial and time contingencies. You will probably need a few general grafters around for a good few days after the move.
  • Buy in lots of fans, extension cables and tape measures. Very few people labelled their bins so we are short of those as well.
  • Insist that staff label every single item to move, store or sling. Even if you tell them unlabelled things will be thrown away, you really need to make sure it's genuine rubbish rather than an oversight.
  • Don't sling furniture until you're sure you don't need it.
  • Don't store furniture that needs slinging.
  • Book a 3-week holiday over the decant period (OK, maybe this one's in the category of things I wish I'd done).

In fact, looking at the above it all could have been far, far worse, but I will definitely do a few things differently next time around.

On a separate note I've written an article on BSF for "School Financial Management", which has just been published. My family all reckon it'll turn up as one of the obscure publications on "Have I got News for You", but what do they know - I'm really proud! Welcome to anyone who's visiting this site via that article. I'd love to get some sort of informal School Business Manager networking site going (not just BSF related), and one of our Governors who sets this sort of thing up for a living has offered support with this. Contact me if it's something you'd be interested in.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Big Move - Number One

Well, we've kind of moved. The week before half term was spent packing, with the Friday being official packing day. Luckily a lot of the staff had started packing as soon as crates arrived the previous week, because by the morning of official packing day most of the crates had gone. The otherwise wonderful Harrow Green had seriously underestimated the amount of stuff that needed to be moved (I reckon some of the cupboards hadn't ever been cleared out), and an emergency delivery was made by lunchtime. In the interim the squirrel instincts of our Premises Manager also meant that we stumbled across a secret supply of spare crates that averted a disaster while we waited for delivery. The Year 7 students spent the day in a carnival workshop, which ended with them forming a procession outside the old block to say goodbye to it. They looked great in their recycled Loot newspaper costumes and it was a bit of welcome light relief from packing.

By 3.30pm on the Friday everyone who should have been packed was packed, and many of us were enjoying a "cold drink" supplied by the Head.

I managed to slip off on holiday for a few days at the beginning of the week and returned to find that everything had been hauled from one end of the school to the other, so I've spent the past few days fine tuning the furniture move. I'm knackered just from four days of running up and down stairs (with minimal lifting) so it's hats off to the removal folk. They just cracked on with everything, didn't once look huffy when I told them the filing cabinet in the far corner of a room behind 30 crates needed to be hoiked out and moved to another room, and even made me a cup of tea on Sunday. Many of them are based in Newcastle and apparently they come down to London as a team, work double shifts seven days a week for a fortnight and then go back home. Apparently this was a really tough job because of the number of staircases they have to navigate, so they're not too enchanted by the idea of doing the February move, but I'd be happy to have them back again.

Of course not everything's rosy in the garden....

To say the ICT is a bit of a nailbiter is an understatement. There are around five different sub-contractors involved in getting the ICT to work excuding RM and Wilmott Dixon. Some report to Wilmott Dixon and some to RM. The job of co-ordinating everything and trouble-shooting seems somehow to have fallen to our Network Manager who is not paid a daily rate for project management, and in fact works way over his hours and weekends unpaid on a regular basis. Part of the problem is that sorting out the ICT decant was fraught with problems and everything was left until the last minute. Contracts, contracts. Nick's been in all weekend, and at close of play today felt things were just about on track for providing an ICT service for students on Wednesday - but it's going to be a close run thing.

The admin offices are absolutely stuffed with crates. Some faces are going to drop tomorrow when they see what's been crammed into the new spaces. The new classrooms generally look fine, though, and the removal folk will be on hand for the next couple of days to sort out any problems.

We're having to run the new blocks from two generators, because our electricity usage was negotiated in 1969 and we're already over capacity. Painful negotiations are taking place to increase capapcity, but in the meantime it's generators and fuel deliveries. The generators are noisy. Following firm advice from ICT folk the ICT power was left running on Friday. On Saturday morning a local resident unsurprisingly and not unreasonably made a "strong point" to the builders, so the generators will have to go off every night. Getting them back up again and sequencing the ICT takes an hour every morning. We will need to find a workaround quickly because we need to be able to take phone calls from 7.30 onwards.

Tomorrow the staff return from half-term, so I'm bracing myself for an extremely busy couple of days, although I know we'll be supported by Nick, the builders and removal folk. We'll be having a post-mortem meeting next week and hopefully we can iron out a few of the glitches for the next big move (number two) in February.