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Birches Green Infant School

Category: Schools

"What you actually find out is that PFI makes it easier for you because the facilities section of your role is catered for by a team on your behalf. So it’s like having another support system for Headteachers!"

Susan Ricketts, Headteacher, Birches Green Infant School

April, 2007

Birches Green Infant School is a mixed community school in Erdington, about three miles north of Birmingham city centre. The school has been completely redeveloped and the new building opened in 2002, replacing the original wooden structure that used to house the school.

This project was part of the Birmingham Grouped Schools PFI project which involved extensive rebuilding and structural work at ten primary and secondary schools throughout the city.

The PPP Forum interviewed Susan Ricketts, who has been the Headteacher at the school for just over one year.

I came here in January 2006, from a school where the roof leaked regularly! When I came to have a look around Birches Green I was immediately impressed with the standard of the building and the standard of the equipment – I was definitely enticed!

At my previous school, where I was a deputy Headteacher, the buildings needed a lot of maintenance and improvement work doing to them. As a deputy I was aware of the amount of time it took the Headteacher to deal with building related issues and concerns. She was on the front line of planning and organising improvements to the building.

How is that different with a PFI project – has it improved the situation?

Absolutely. They have a rolling programme in place for decorating and works that need to be done. So the building is maintained and always at a good standard. It frees up a huge amount of my time, leaving me to concentrate on the central purpose of my role in the education process at Birches Green – leading teaching and learning!”

How has the PFI project operated since your arrival here?

The school was built in 2002. It’s interesting when you’re completely unfamiliar with the PFI set up, finding out how it works. Initially it adds a little bit of extra stress when you first take over the role – because it’s different. But I think I have been supported by the fact that there are other PFI schools in the area and if I’m not sure about something I can also phone one of the other ten Headteachers in the area – the network is quite good here.

What you quickly realise is that you talk to your caretaker who then deals with it. If it’s not something that he can deal with, he gets in touch with the helpline. There have been very few occasions when I have personally had to get in touch with the helpline, because that is a part of the caretakers role.”

An Ofsted report on the school was recently published which was very complimentary.

Generally in the area there are falling rolls at schools, but we’ve managed to maintain numbers here. Parents want their children to come here. We’re generally full throughout the school and have waiting lists in some classes. The Ofsted report earlier this year said that we have a lovely building and that we’ve got excellent resources and facilities.”

How have people reacted to the project at Birches Green?

Staff and Parents appreciate the building, although everyone quickly gets used to having high quality facilities and it’s easy to take it all for granted, forgetting that many other schools are less fortunate.”

Do you refer to the contract much?

I do sometimes when I’m not sure about something – basic variation orders for example. The contacts at the Project Company are very good – you can just ask them anything and they’ll help. Once a term we have a full meeting so if there are any concerns we can raise them. They are very much a supportive team in the background.

Is the partnership working well?

Yes, I feel that it is.”

Has it given you more time to focus on education and raising standards?

Absolutely. Particularly with the ongoing ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda, the school building and facilities contribute to the well being, safety and health of everyone here. It is a place that’s pleasant, bright, clear and inclusive.”

Has the new building helped with recruitment?

We generally have a low staff turnover but I did have some retirements last year so I recruited two new members of staff and we had a lot of interest in the posts. A number of teachers came to have a look around the school and were impressed. I didn’t have any difficulty recruiting at all. It’s a combination of the staff they meet, the children they meet and the building – they can see that it’s been very well resourced.”

What do you say to people about PFI?

I believe you need to come out and see for yourself. It depends on where you come from, it’s relative. For the building where I’d come from, the Headteacher would have to spend lots of time planning a rolling programme of works - when the windows were going to be replaced, which part of the roof we were going to have repaired and so on. Having that to deal with takes a big chunk of time, whereas here that’s all dealt with by someone else now. I remember in my first term here, the contractor got in touch with me to say that they were going to repaint the hall and corridors during half term. I went into the hall and looked around and thought ‘why? It looks fine!’ I was very impressed by that – it’s a high standard that they’re maintaining.”

Is there any advice you would offer to other schools going through the PFI process?

As a port of call a local network helps. It is useful having the names of the other Headteachers in the area so you can phone and ask them how they have dealt with an issue. What you actually find out is that PFI makes it easier for you because the facilities section of your role is catered for by a team on your behalf. So it’s like having another support system for Headteachers!

I also understand that in PFI schools that have had a number of new School Governors, the private sector providers have attended a Governors meeting to explain the evolution of the PFI contract to them. It supports Governors in their role help them to understand how the contract works.”