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Perry Beeches School

Category: Schools

Our experiences of PFI have been fantastic. It's very difficult to find negatives. Within the space of a phone call or by the end of a meeting, problems are ironed out. That makes running the school so much easier.

Liam Nolan, Headteacher, Perry Beeches School

March, 2009

Perry Beeches School is part of the £45 million Birmingham Schools PFI Project which reached construction completion in May 2002.

The PFI completely rebuilt the school which is now listed as one of the City of Birmingham's Iconic Buildings.  The school's facilities include two dedicated ICT rooms, a multimedia room, a multi-purpose sports hall, gymnasium, fitness room and two full sized all weather pitches.

Following its GCSE results in September 2008 Perry Beeches is the most improved school in the UK.

Liam Nolan started as Headteacher in September 2007. Having interviewed his predecessor, Ingrid Gallagher in 2004, the PPP Forum wanted to find out what he thinks about his new PFI school.

What were your first impressions of the school? 

When I arrived at the school for my interview I thought the school was like dreamland. It was a brand new building that looked like an incredible piece of art. I never thought I would be able to get a job at a school that looked like that.  

At that time although I didn't fully understand PFI projects, I did realise that the ultimate responsibility for the maintenance and care of the building would not be mine. This building was going to be looked after by other people, and I would simply use it for the benefit of education, something which I was really excited about. I was going to be able to do the thing that I had been trained to do, which was to ensure improvements in standards of teaching and learning, to raise the grade for students and to organise the development of staff. 

When I started at Perry Beeches one of the key issues was that, in terms of results, it was a failing school. This may have been partially due to the fact that there was too much reliance placed on the school having such outstanding buildings; that somehow, because of the standard of facilities you could sit back and relax. However for me that is not right. The fantastic buildings are all there, and are fully maintained, which means you've got the time to improve academic results. 

Do you think that the new school buildings have had an effect on recruitment of teachers? 

I think it certainly helps. It really adds to the prestige of the job, there's no doubt about that. 

What is the perception of the school in the community?

The broader community appears to be very proud of the school. I would also say that for a number of years it is the facility that has been the key reason why the school has been oversubscribed rather than its academic performance. 

What is your relationship like with the PFI contractors?

I think it's excellent. I think this is because we as a school view ourselves now as a business, and we speak in business terms with our partners. It's all about partnership, and when problems arise they are solved quickly. The people we deal with  are professional people who really know their job. 

A PFI contract lasts typically for 25 to 30 years. Do you have any comments about that?

The people looking after this building are professionals and maintain it to the highest of standards; the school still looks brand new despite the fact that sections of it have been around for eight or nine years. When it's handed back it will be in good shape which is something I cannot generally say of schools that are not PFIs, where senior leadership often use their budgets to maintain their schools in the quickest, cheapest way possible. But I believe that this is not to the benefit of the longevity of the building. 

Is there any advice you would give to a headteacher embarking on a PFI?

I'd say go in to the process with an open mind. Sometimes headteachers can be  control freaks! They want to be in charge of everything. I advise letting go and allowing the private sector professionals to get on and do their job. 

As a headteacher, one should be like the leader of a business, and go and make your   own business connections with the partners who are there. Don't hide behind public sector rules. Go and get the best for your students and your community by making those relationships yourself. 

When you talk to people about PFI in general, what are the sorts of things that you say?

Our experiences have been fantastic. It's very difficult to find negatives. Within the space of a phone call or by the end of a meeting, problems are ironed out. That makes running the school so much easier.