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Clifton Primary School

Category: Schools

This school was chosen because we were in a Victorian building that was built in 1878. It was a super building and I think people would say that it was a flagship in its day.

However, refurbishment of our particular Junior building wasn’t really an economic prospect so it had to be a new build. Also at the same time that the option for PFI came along, there was a piece of land available here which the Governors had fought very hard to hold on to as a designated site for a new school. So that meant that the land was available, and the need was clear.”

Keith Tatton, Headteacher of Clifton Primary School.

October, 2007

The £50 million Birmingham Grouped Schools PFI project involved 11 schools. The project involved new build and refurbishment of nursery, infant, junior, secondary and special needs facilities in various locations across the City of Birmingham. The new schools replaced extremely poor Victorian building stock.

The New Clifton School opened in September 2000. Up until September 2005 there were two separate schools - Clifton Infant School and Clifton Junior School - with two different Heads running both of those schools. The amalgamation of the two schools finally took place in September 2005 into what is now known as Clifton Primary School.

The Birmingham project was awarded Best Operational Education Project in 2003 Public Finance Awards.

The PPP Forum interviewed Keith Tatton, Headteacher of Clifton Primary School.

How involved were you in the development of the project?

Very involved. It’s hard work in the context that as an educationalist you don’t have a lot of experience and background to draw upon when you’re looking at plans and the architecture and trying to envisage how it is going to translate into real life.

We were asked ‘what do you want, what are the key features you want for this school?’ So we said: we want to maintain a parents room; we want an ICT suite that can accommodate 30 computers; we want a welcoming reception area. In the old building you came in through the main door and you had to go up the staircase before you got to the Heads room or the secretaries room.”

How was the construction phase?

Construction didn’t seem to take too long. One of the interesting things for us and one of the big positives for us which other schools have not had is that they weren’t building on our existing site so they weren’t shuttling us about while they were doing the building work. The old site is up the road and every so often I came down to the site manager’s hut and we got the plans out and discussed and looked at where we were going.

A month after we’d moved to the new building - it was almost as if the old building had said ‘I’ve had enough’ - and the rain started pouring in through the tiles! For three years we knew that we were moving in to a new building - so you don’t start splashing your budget around on minor repairs and cosmetics; we held things back so it did deteriorate during that time. So yes – the new building was wonderful!

How are the staff finding it?

They are very positive, I mean it’s a lovely environment to work in as far as I’m concerned.”

Do the children seem to thrive in it?

Yes. The old school was in the end damp, cold and miserable. We did our best with it – using displays and various other things to make it a pleasant learning environment. OFSTED inspectors said things like ‘what a terrible school you have to work in’. And having been in it then for about 30 years I said ‘it isn’t that bad you know’. But coming in to here you can see the contrast in the environment. It is warm, it is welcoming and for some of them it gives them something beyond their homes to come in to, something as well furbished as this is. I feel it certainly hasn’t done any harm to things like attendance to be in a new, modern and well lit building.”

Has the new school made it easier to attract staff?

We’ve always had good staff retention but I’m sure a new building helps. I’m sure I had to work a lot harder to persuade people to join when we were in the old building. However I couldn’t say yes, there’s been an incredible improvement in that area, because it has always been good. I think that is because of the ethos of the school generally and its reputation in the area.”

Has the new building helped you to deliver your educational objectives?

Yes. You have to say that the new building has been designed to help deliver an education in the 21st century. Some of the design has been linked to what our specific objectives are. Some of it is the way it has grown as a school within the building because a building isn’t a school and a school isn’t a building. A school is much more than a building. I’m very idiosyncratic, perhaps it is my age, but I always have been in the way I manage and work as a Head. Some of the success that we’ve had here since the PFI is I believe about the way I’ve worked with everyone and the way other people have worked with me as far as the PFI project is concerned.”

How would you describe your relationship with the private sector provider – is it an open and fair one?

Yes I think that’s reasonably fair, I mean there have been a couple of issues recently that I have felt more passionate about than in the early days. I think the early days were a difficult time because there were a number of hitches that PFI providers were not prepared for and not ready to manage. The model I’ve worked to is: I understand it’s PFI, I understand PFI is not an open cheque book (which would be a totally ridiculous approach). However, I’ve not been prepared to let PFI regulations get in the way of me delivering an education to the children.”

What difference has the PFI made to the community?

Yes, I think the community have a positive view of the school and what it provides for their children. Again the way I operate, and the way I operate with the site manager here, is that we make the school available for community events and meetings. And we’re working together with that and I have to say that I’ve got a really really good site manager and that actually makes a difference to the services that we provide.”

You had an OFSTED inspection and subsequent report last year that was very positive, you must be pleased with that?

Yes, very pleased. I’m told by colleagues that it has always been a school that has had a good reputation in terms of the education provided and that was true even when we were in the old building. But yes it continues to have that good reputation and yes I think the new building helps with that.

It’s part of the reason for me retiring really, it’s a good time to hand over a school. An interesting factor will be how the new Head comes to terms with the PFI. I don’t think it’s a gigantic thing because as we have talked about already, relationships are a crucial part of it - so I don’t think there is anything terribly intricate or difficult. I think a new Head will be on to that pretty quickly, though they may have to ask more questions at the beginning.”

Does the PFI free-up more time for you to spend on education?

I would very much say that. I think that was compounded by the nature of the building we were in and that we didn’t have a full time caretaker at that point. I was finding myself doing a lot of the running around to get maintenance and repairs done, unblocking toilets and heavens knows what else. The site manager deals with that now, and not only that, but he also notices other things around the place before I’ve even noticed them and he gets them sorted out. So yes, it’s freed up a considerable amount of my time.”

What do you say to people when they ask you about PFI

Would you give any advice to anyone else in your position about to undertake a similar project?

I think I have a realistic view of what’s involved in it. Make sure there is the right professional support and the lessons from previous PFI’s have been learnt. There needs to be someone with the architectural expertise to match up with the education expertise that you are putting in.

The contract needs reading through very carefully and you need the expertise to do that.

Space is an issue, but then it probably is any new build - you never have quite enough storage space in a new building!