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Sandhill View School, Sunderland

Category: Schools

"I am delighted with our new School and Community Learning Centre. The building is tremendous, the facilities and accommodation are superb and at last our pupils, staff and community have a school building and facilities to be proud of and deserving of their commitment to our school, particularly in recent years."

Phil Marshall, Headteacher

July, 2003

Sandhill View School opened in September 2002 and accommodates 900 pupils as part of the Sandhill View Community Learning Centre, built on the site of the old school. The centre itself is home to a number of facilities such as a sports centre and community theatre which are jointly managed by the school and Jarvis the PFI Provider, and a Youth Centre, Electronic Village Hall and Public library which are manage by the local authority. This was the first development of its kind to be built in this country and it was designed to deliver lifelong learning to the whole community. The school serves an urban area of Sunderland that has high levels of social and economic deprivation. In January 2003 the school was inspected by Ofsted which reported that it was well led, that teaching and learning were good and that the school provided a high standard of care for its pupils.

The PPP Forum visited the school and interviewed headteacher, Phil Marshall.

What was the old Sandhill School like?

"I think people forget what it was like. Our old building was built in the 1950s. When I first started at the school, the girls' main toilet block was in such a bad state that the toilets did not flush and there wasn't any running water from the taps. The girls didn't use them and you can imagine the effect that had on attendance and morale. When I told the Local Education Authority, they fixed it straight away, but that gives a picture of the type of facility we were working in before. It gives an example of the kind of facilities that pupils and teachers were resigned to work in. Sometimes, during the winter months we didn't have any heating for days and the pupils had to take exams in the school hall wearing hats and coats and gloves.

The state of the building is important in encouraging children to come to the school. If the kids feel the environment is uncomfortable, they are more likely to stay away
."

What kind of facility do you have now?

"We now have a superb community learning centre; I believe it's the first one of its kind in this country. It is open from 7am until 10pm about 360 days a year. It incorporates the school (ages 11 - 16), a sports and leisure complex, theatre, a motor vehicle workshop, industrial kitchen, youth centre, crèche, electronic-village hall, public library and education training support."

Do you feel that the PPP was overpriced?

"I'm not able to comment on its price and how it compares to other schemes. However , the good thing about PPP is that it encourages competition in the process. I believe that our project was worth around £21 million and the size of the project meant that many companies were interested in winning it. At certain stages that gave us the upper hand in negotiations and getting what we wanted."

Did you ever feel during the process that there was little flexibility to change your mind?

"That's rubbish. We changed our minds almost up until the last week we moved in. With PPPs, you still get what you want. One the Preferred Bidder was selected while the overall package was good, the design for the school part wasn't exactly what we wanted. We worked closely with the architect to make sure the design gave us the kind of school we wanted. What we have here are wide corridors which allow the space that young people need, particularly when moving about. We have very large stairwells to make sure there are no accidents when children are moving between lessons and we have a separate playground and social area for each year group. But getting what I wanted was all down to working well together with the team."

Now that the building is operational, have there been any problems?

"We're in our first year so there are bound to be teething troubles, but we would have had them with any new school building. Our main problems have been around developing the facilities management and making that work with all partners. Everyone had very high expectations of the new school and can be quite quick to criticise if things are not absolutely perfect straight away. But the great benefit of a PPP is that the contractor can't simply build a school and walk away. The onus is on them to fix any problems and that's exactly what's happening here."

Was the project delivered on time?

"The building phase took 12 months. The contract delivery date was supposed to be 16 September but they said they'd try to have it ready by the 1st September. However, because we made some changes, they had to stick to the original contract date so it wasn't quite ready for the start of term although it was on time in terms of the contract. What they did though was to allow us an induction period during those two weeks which meant we could show the children around the building and make sure they knew where everything was. In hindsight, the later starting date and the induction worked really well and meant that on the first day of school, we were able to open as a normal school day."

How have the staff responded to the new building?

"The staff had coped brilliantly in the old building considering the conditions they were working under and got some excellent results but it was quite hard for some of them to adjust to the new surroundings. It's a bit like 1,000 people moving house, a few are bound to miss the familiarity of the old. However, the children took to it immediately!

At the start of the second term, we underwent an OFSTED inspection which is very demanding. We received notification within weeks of moving in. We hadn't even finished unpacking. At the time, it seemed like a real additional pressure in addition to getting used to the new environment but I think helped in getting all the staff focused and things are now much better. The report we got was excellent and a lot of that was to do with the good work that had been going on before the move
."

What particular features do you think have worked well?

"The individual indoor and outdoor break out areas for the children of each age groups has helped us to offer more year based activities. It has also encouraged children to engage with their peers and has cut down the likelihood of bullying."

I understand that previously you had problems with recruitment, what is the situation now?

"Yes, there have been problems as we are an identified challenging circumstance school. For a number of years our reputation was poor and the building served only to put some people off. However, we are now in a fortunate position where we have a good building, a good staff, much improved exam results and have become a first choice preference for many local families. We are oversubscribed by 70 for this year's year 7."

How do you feel about the project overall?

"I am delighted with our new School and Community Learning Centre. The building is tremendous, the facilities and accommodation are superb and at last our pupils, staff and community have a school building and facilities to be proud of and deserving of their commitment to our school, particularly in recent years."