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Rotherham Schools

Category: Schools

"I think the best thing about the PFI is to be able to provide exciting 21st century world-class buildings for our community so that there are no barriers at all for people to achieve their potential. It’s provided an excellent benchmark and it’s proved that we can have a successful public/private partnership."

Graham Sinclair, Rotherham Council

September, 2006

Rotherham Council had one main aim when it embarked on a £100 million PFI programme to re-model and refurbish 15 of its schools and that was to raise the attainment of the pupils.

The 30 year contract was signed on 13th June 2003 and three years on it is delivering that aim.

The PPP Forum interviewed Graham Sinclair, Acting Strategic Leader for Resources and Information in Education, Culture and Leisure Services at Rotherham Council.

"At all key stages this year this authority has improved and the schools within the PFI project have contributed towards that improvement. Our GCSE results are the easiest to measure. The achievement of A-C grade at GCSE has increased from what it was five years ago, just below 40%, to just about 50% now. So, there’s been at least a 25% increase in attainment.

The new buildings and the promise of the new buildings have really helped pupils improve and they’ve helped us attract better teachers. They are just much nicer places to work so that when we’ve had adverts for new staff, there have been far more people applying for the posts. Now we get about 20 or so applications whereas maybe we were getting three or four before. It’s that dramatic.

At its very basic level we now have buildings where the staff and the children can feel they are safe, dry and warm

The project to improve Rotherham’s schools actually began back in 1999 when an Ofsted inspection found that the authority was not attaining highly enough. It suggested that the authority needed to invest in its buildings and to look at how to manage them more efficiently and effectively.

"At that time the estate included a mixture of buildings from the turn of the century, the 1930s, and the 1960s. They needed millions of pounds spending on repairs as well as being totally unsuitable for the 21st century.

We looked at ways of how this money could come into the authority and PFI was really the best way to bring in enough credits to really change and radicalise our school buildings. We were quite fortunate in that we were given, in the early stages, a lot of support from the DfES. We did do an option appraisal of all of our school buildings to identify which ones should be part of what became a PFI project

The 15 chosen schools serve around a quarter of Rotherham’s pupil population. There will eventually be nine new buildings and six refurbished and remodelled. Four secondary schools and five primaries are already fully operational.

"What we also have now are logical buildings. In a primary school you’ve got a building where you can start with the foundation stages and go all the way up to year six without rooms being in odd positions. And you’ve got buildings that people can be proud of. We’ve got some excellent buildings, the design’s lovely and they’re all individual as well. That was one of the things that we did want so we’re very happy about that.

They’ve got reception areas that are very welcoming and not simply a door in the wall. They’ve got state-of-the-art science labs. They’ve got state-of-the-art CDT areas, food technology areas, craft areas, art rooms that are built specifically to let as much light in as possible. So, in all of those key areas, especially where the children mix – the dining areas and the year group areas – there are some very nice, quite imaginative spaces

As well as improving attainment of pupils the authority’s second aim was to expand community development.

"We looked at all our schools and put an option appraisal together where we looked at their condition but we also looked at their potential for the greatest community involvement. Some of the buildings were a real barrier to this and that was taken into account when deciding which to include in the PFI. All our schools bought into this process of identifying the most needy and we also promised the other schools is that we would repair them as much as we could so that they could be safe, dry and warm too. Our team then went to each of the schools in the PFI to identify their needs and that became part of the output specification and helped us decide which should be new builds. But we did want the private sector to come in and tell us what they thought as well. And that’s exactly what they did.

When we put in our first business case it was based on far more refurbishment than actually took place. It started off, really, I think, being about a third new build and two-third refurbishment. Eventually it became a two-thirds new build and a third refurbishment. So, of about 80-odd thousand square metres, 66,000 of those are new build now whereas before it was 30,000-odd and we therefore went back to the DfES and asked for additional credits to follow through and that was successful. Within those schools we also have youth centres that are integrated within the schools that are also part of the build.

The things that we like about the PFI project are for example the fact that we get really well-kept, well-maintained schools, according to an agreed output specification which is not the way that councils have been encouraged to or, indeed, have worked to in the past. This has given us an opportunity now to look at a different way of working, there’s an agreed lifecycle as well where the schools are periodically refreshed, the main units, the roofs and the boilers and so on, so that at the end of the 30-year period, as it is, we will be taking over schools that are really of the same or similar standard as to when we got them. So, we’re not creating the same problem as we had from the 1960s.

The other very positive thing for us was working in partnership with Transform Schools who suggested in their bid, and we’ve since followed it through, that we set up a not-for-profit company called Building and Learning Communities Limited to handle the extended community use. They found an opportunity and we really agreed with it that we could set up this not-for-profit company where any profit, if there were any profits, would stay within the project itself and not go to Transform Schools or Haydon, the FM provider

One thing the Rotherham schools all have in common is that they have kitchens on site and offer excellent catering.

"All the catering facilities in all of the schools are superb, really, and that’s made a huge difference. What we’ve tried to do is design areas in, certainly, many of the schools that pupils would feel familiar with and be excited by. So, we’ve got an approach with self-seating and it’s got different tables. It’s not a model of lining up in a row together for school meals.

I think the best thing about the PFI is to be able to provide exciting 21st century world-class buildings for our community so that there are no barriers at all for people to achieve their potential. It’s provided an excellent benchmark and it’s proved that we can have a successful public/private partnership