COO 06 Dec 2021

The Challenges of Good Estates Management for Older School Estates

A fallen tree on school site

This term has presented a number of difficult challenges linked to the estates across the Trust. It’s expensive and time consuming to maintain and develop facilities that are fit for purpose when they were mostly built over 60 years ago and in some cases are even older than that.

The photograph above shows a tree fall from mid October on one of our school sites which luckily happened before any students were on site. It glanced off a new building causing minor damage and major alarm to the staff inside! The tree belonged to a neighbour and highlighted our safety responsibilities and the need to consider things beyond our boundaries. A resulting action of this event was for all schools in the Trust to request a tree specialist to update the regular tree surveys to include collaboration with relevant neighbours.

COP26 in late October encouraged the development of carbon reduction measures in our estates. Projects like insulating buildings, renewable fueled boilers and solar panels all come with obvious benefits and equally obvious costs. There are limited grants available to support this work.

Storm Arwen hit our schools in late November and caused some low level damage in most estates, particularly for schools in the Coquet Valley where multiple tree falls seriously damaged a school roof. We anticipate multiple insurance claims will fund most of the repairs. The tree survey updates earlier in the term undoubtedly reduced the damage and costs. Are we to expect more of these dramatic weather events due to the impact of climate change?

The Trust receives the School Condition Allowance annually which has enabled long term estates planning across all the schools. A key part of this process is when schools apply to the Trust Board in the Autumn term for support to meet their estates priorities. Applications this year are in excess of double the available funding; all the applications have merit and are deserving of funding. This process highlights the lack of funding in the education system to support the multiple and competing demands of older school estates. 

Local and national government funding does support some new school builds and refurbishment projects but none of the Trust schools are likely to qualify for this any time soon; whilst old and expensive they are well maintained in comparison to schools that reach the top of the various lists. 

The low level of funding to support new school buildings, building refurbishment and climate change actions is a growing national crisis; lots of government promises, declarations of emergencies and policies issued have limited value without funding that enables delivery.

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