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Airdrie Academy

Category: Schools

Compared with the old school, the new school is a much more welcoming, inclusive learning environment. Also, the management of the new building is much less stressful than it was in the previous campus which consisted of four separate  buildings. I think the atmosphere and ethos across the school and the ability to manage the school more easily are contributing to rising attainment.

John Johnston, Senior Depute Headteacher, Airdrie Academy

May, 2009

Airdrie Academy is part of the £170 million North Lanarkshire Schools PFI Project which reached financial close in June 2005.   

Airdrie Academy is a secondary school with a current roll of approximately 1,100 pupils. The new state-of-the-art building opened its doors to pupils in October 2006. The old school was spread between 4 separate buildings which had been in use for almost 70 years and which were reaching the end of their  serviceable life. 

The PPP Forum interviewed John Johnston, Senior Depute Headteacher, to find out what he thinks about the new PFI school.

How would you characterise the period from construction until you moved in to the school?

I would say it was frenetic, but at the same time it was a motivating experience because we all knew there was a reward at the end of the process. It was a difficult time for staff and pupils and we all made sacrifices, having to make extra commitments, and having to go beyond the call of duty.  But at the same time we could see why the extra effort was worth it because we could see where we were going. We could  see the shape of the new building going up day-by-day. 

How would you characterise the relationship with the construction contactor?

We had a very good working relationship.

What do people think of the new school? 

I think the new building has been well designed. The old school was a real landmark which had historic significance and a definite place in the heart of the community and the new design successfully incorporates many  aspects of the old. In the new building there is a clock tower, from the old, and this has become the centre point of the atrium. In the old school there was a large war memorial which was taken out piece-by-piece and recreated in the new assembly hall. 

Compared with the old school, the new school is a much more welcoming, inclusive learning environment. Also, the management of the new building is much less stressful than it was in the previous campus which consisted of four separate  buildings. I think the atmosphere and ethos across the school and the ability to manage the school more easily are contributing to rising attainment. 

We have quite a lot of visitors to the school, who almost without exception leave with a glowing recommendation of the environment within which we're working.

Also I think the pupils respect the school.  One way this is reflected is by the absence of graffiti...even in the toilets!

How is the operating stage going?

We have had a few snagging problems, which you would expect with any new building, and which have been dealt with quickly and efficiently.  Also, ongoing problems that arise are dealt with much more speedily and effectively than they were in the previous system.  

I'd say there's an excellent relationship between the school and the Facilities Management contractors.  There was a good relationship with the janitors before, but I'd say it's even better now.

What advice would you give to someone in your shoes embarking on the PFI process?

A key element is to make sure that you have the support of staff, pupils and the local community and to invest a lot of time in getting the planning right. For example you need to make sure that you give the staff enough time to do all the things they need to do in relation to the move to the new school. Also, we organised an early visit to the new school for the prefects so that they could act as guides for the children coming in on the first day of the new school.  

Also, we employed someone to help us with the day to day aspects of the PFI process. He relayed information to staff immediately, and people knew they could go through him if they had any questions. He was well qualified for the role as he was a retired teacher and had expertise in council matters.  This meant that I wasn't tied down to lengthy periods of consultation, or dealing with people about the PFI on a daily basis. This meant that myself, the other depute head teachers, and the head teacher, could maintain our normal jobs.

What do you say to people about PFI?

It's not the monster it is sometimes made out to be.  There are swings and roundabouts, but what you've got to do is to maximise the potential of the things that are good, and minimise the drawbacks.