Our advice covered three areas: Managed Services and ICT; the role of the LA; Procurement. Schools have, historically, since the Local Management of Schools, been used to their autonomy in setting budgets, developing their whole school ICT networks and whole school procurement and the financial rules that go with this. We had managed services for ICT and Facilities Management forced upon us with Partnership for Schools and the LA stating, ‘accept this or walk away’. So what could we do? From the start this was a complete disaster. The ICT contract forced the schools into the following: accepting kit prices that in some cases was double that found in the market place; agreeing that our technicians would be TUPE’d across to the provider; losing our remote access to the school MIS and VLE because it could compromise the provider’s security systems; less desktops and laptops than we had in the old school because of the exorbitant prices in the provider’s catalogue; paying for the infrastructure costs out of the money we were told was for the kids, thus bearing the cost for servers, switches and wiring; having to take old laptops and desktops in their death throes just to try and achieve what we already had. The whole thing has, from the outset, compromised the schools’ ability to deliver a 21st Century curriculum; to have the freedom to procure freely and cost-effectively; tied the schools into a 5 year contract; given us a service much less efficient than what we had with networks going down for days, e-mail systems not working, files lost and, in one bizarre circumstance, a school being able to access another school’s confidential financial details.
The Facilities Management contract started badly for schools with the LA choosing an FM provider. This despite the schools voting for a different provider. Again, from the start this was an unmitigated disaster. They didn’t turn up for meetings and if they did it was never the same person twice; their catalogue of prices was exorbitant and their repair prices defying belief; their workforce was too small across the schools and vital repair jobs not completed or seriously delayed; all schools ended up with serious Health and Safety and Safeguarding issues; the schools were expected to tie into a 25 year contract at annual fees that could have forced schools into shedding staff. Again, the stresses and strains placed on teachers, students, premises staff was, and is, unrelenting. The Headteachers spending hours arguing with the providers for a basic service, trying to remember the halcyon days in buildings that were not fit for purpose but worked well and successfully.
Finally, a great lesson we have all learned is regarding procurement. It is clear, in our dealings with the corporate and the national and international companies that bigger is far from better. Those relationships with smaller providers and the ability to source our own are vital if you wish to maintain your school and its success. The large corporate companies have no idea how schools work and function and, what is worse, they do not care. Profit is king. Our ability to band together and achieve value for money by looking together at providers that give real value for money, and enter into a relationship with schools, has to be at the core of our decision making. Anyone embarking on a new build or new procurement must spend time on research, talking to other schools and their experiences, searching for sites on the Internet that can find providers for you. Don’t be rushed by others who seek an instant answer or agreement. Take a decision in your time.
As a school, we will get there eventually and have what we want but there are still major battles ahead. It has stressed me out in this battle for the best for the kids but it is one I am determined to win. All I can say for now, and all that has gone on for five years is, we have a better building but a worse school.