Julian Coles, Property Surveyor at Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust (LAAT), describes how the Trust can make it easier for its member schools to fund and manage capital improvement projects.
As an eligible Multi Academy Trust (MAT) the LAAT can access funding through the Department for Education’s school condition allocation (SCA) to help maintain and improve the condition of buildings and grounds across our member schools. This is a significant benefit for LAAT academies as prior to joining the Trust they would have had to allocate time and resource to apply for project funding themselves from the Government’s Condition Improvement Fund (CIF). Keeping education buildings safe and in good working order, as well as making aesthetic improvements, is vital to the health, safety and wellbeing of academy staff and pupils. This is, therefore, an important aspect of LAAT’s support for its growing family, which currently stands at around 3,350 children across 18 schools. So what does this support involve?
When I joined LAAT in the new post of Property Surveyor in March 2021, my first task was to complete condition surveys of all member schools and having assessed the results to draw up a plan of works for the next 5 to 10 years. With access to SCA funding, LAAT is able to prioritise annual spending across the Trust and its academies based on condition need and address any issues relating to health and safety and building compliance. However, when more immediate works are being completed we may also schedule other planned improvements as it can be more cost-effective, and less disruptive for the school, to get these done while contractors are already on site.
As members of LAAT, our headteachers and their teams no longer have to spend their valuable time overseeing capital improvement projects. Having consulted closely with the school on their particular requirements, LAAT will draw up the specification for the agreed works, put this out to competitive tender, liaise with the chosen contractors, and oversee the project to completion. In order to simplify this process for all parties, my department is currently considering creating templates for selected specifications, such as play areas. These will set standards and certain design criteria to which all works must comply, whilst still allowing flexibility for the needs of individual schools – because we never forget how important it is for our academies to retain their own unique identities.
As at summer 2021, the value of capital improvement works planned or completed across LAAT’s Church of England Schools was estimated in excess of £420,000. These works cover various aspects of the educational estate, from general repairs and maintenance to more ambitious projects. For example, a number of our schools have made major improvements to their outdoor play areas to enhance the wellbeing and development of their pupils. These include a new Trim Trail and multi-use games Astro-pitch at Ruskington Chestnut Street and the installation of a well-equipped outdoor gym at Wainfleet.
In addition, LED lighting upgrades are under way at several of our primary academies, including Canon Peter Hall, Morton, and Wrawby – one of the newest members of the Trust. As well as making a significant improvement to lighting levels, the installation of energy-saving LED lighting systems will bring the added benefits of lower energy bills and a reduction in the schools’ carbon footprint.
Some improvements are identified as a result of routine inspections by outside bodies, such as the five-yearly electrical inspection at Morton which highlighted the need for the existing electrical mains panel to be replaced with new distribution boards. To complement this upgrade we arranged for the installation of a new fire alarm system at the school together with additional emergency lighting. And when new fire doors were fitted following a Fire Door Survey at Canon Peter Hall, we decided to replace old internal doors throughout the school with modern wood veneer doors. Although this might not have been classified as essential works, at LAAT we believe investing in the aesthetic of a building provides a visible lift and encourages pupils to have pride in their school.
So, as we look forward to working with our academies on future improvements, they can be assured of LAAT’s continuing advice and support when it comes to capital improvement projects that create safe and inspiring learning and play facilities in which all children can flourish and grow.