Estate management; the policies, processes and documents

Estate management is an essential part of school business management; with high-levels of maintenance required, it’s best to ensure that you are well-organised, have your policies, processes and documents in place and staff to support you. We review the fundamentals of good estate management.

Back in April the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Department for Education (DfE) published the Good Estate Management for Schools (GEMS) guidance and tools. The aim is to provide online resources to support the management of land, buildings and resources, and to support educational objectives.

Good estate management is essential; it will ensure that your school premises provide a safe environment which supports the education needs and goals set out in your school’s vision. Strategic estate management will include land and buildings and is most effective when it includes the whole organisation and is co-ordinated and integrated with your wider school development planning process.

Schools will sometimes have obligations for the upkeep and maintenance of the school’s estate. For example, schools supported by a charitable foundation must meet the foundation’s objectives – this includes schools of a religious character. Obligations should be outlined in;

  • trust deed;
  • articles of association in an academy;
  • instrument of government in a maintained school.

The DfE has created the GEMS guide to support estate management; while much of it will be known to those SBMs charged with premises management responsibilities, there are some useful links and tidbits of information that are worth considering.

Where the responsibility lies

The guidance is tailored to executive leaders, school business professionals, local authorities, diocesan authorities and other religious authorities and bodies. It gives an overview of where responsibility lies and who you need to go through to make strategic decisions – which will depend on your organisation type.

  • A community, or community special school, should check with their local authority.
  • A voluntary controlled school should check with their local authority and any trustees of the school.
  • An academy should check with their academy trust and any trustees of the school.
  • A school with a religious character should check with the trustees of the school, diocese or relevant diocesan board.
  • A foundation, voluntary aided or foundation special school should check with the governing body and any trustees of the school.

For PFI schools, SBM Sue Birchall has written an informative guide that will help you to navigate this, often tricky, area.

Vision. Strategy. Planning.

To support the strategic management of your school premises is essential that you:

  • Have a defined vision

This should be aligned with your educational vision, have a clearly defined medium to long-term vision and be signed-off by your board.

  • Develop an estate strategy

This should be aligned with your educational vision and explain how you will execute it. It should cover the next three-to-five years and, again, be signed off by your board and be reviewed alongside the estate vision.

  • Put in place your asset management plan (AMP)

Your AMP will set out the actions needed to implement your estate strategy and will cover the short- to-medium term. It will be signed off by your board and should be reviewed alongside the estate vision and strategy.

You can learn more about strategic estate management here.

Document everything!

To support the management of your school’s estate you should have agreed and documented the following processes and procedures:

  • Governance – ensure you have clear governance processes in place to support the minutiae of the estate. Estate checks for school boards.
  • Budget and finance – you should have a three- to five-year budget plan in place for the estate.
  • Performance management of the estate – there should be an agreed approach to performance management of assets across the estate. For example, a consistent approach to the measurement of property-related performance.
  • Data and data management – strategic use of data can help you make informed decisions. You should have a system that covers how data is collected, stored and managed, as well as how it is used to make decisions. You need to manage performance at all levels.
  • Procurement – you should have defined and transparent procurement procedures which detail how you should engage professionals and achieve value-for-money.
  • Emergency planning – emergency planning should include a formal policy for responding to emergencies which affect the use of the estate.
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Find out more about organisational processes and policies.

Health and safety

The safety and security of the estate is an important part of estate management and you will have policies and processes to support this. In terms of health and safety you will have documented safety procedures which include defined and understood responsibilities for the safety and security of staff, pupils and visitors, for example.

You will also need to consider statutory compliance procedures. These should include;

  • a complete understanding of your statutory compliance requirements – what you should be doing;
  • an understanding of compliance across the whole estate – how you are doing against requirements;
  • records to document your compliance.

Find out more about safety and statutory compliance.

Maintain your estate maintenance

Well-planned maintenance will help you manage the estate and your estate budget. Your estate maintenance plan should include a prioritised programme of maintenance works based on current and costed condition data and identify who is responsible for maintaining land, buildings and equipment.

Find out more about maintaining the estate.

Understand your land and buildings

Understanding your land and buildings will help you to manage them effectively; you should have the relevant policies and procedures in place to support this. Consider things such as:

  • Tenure and land ownership – understanding land ownership, rights and obligations. For example, who has a legal or controlling interest in your land and buildings?
  • Acquisitions and disposals – you should understand the process for making and seeking approval for acquisitions and disposals decisions and tenure and land ownership implications.
  • Condition – you should have a complete understanding of the condition of all buildings in the estate and the cost and priority of any works needed.
  • Suitability and sufficiency – understanding suitability and sufficiency will help you make strategic decisions.

Find out more about land and buildings information.

Manage your energy and water usage

You should have a consistent and challenging approach to ensure that you are managing energy and water use

and running energy-efficient buildings.

Find out more about energy and water management.

Plan and carry out estate projects

You will need to be able to plan and carry out different types of estates projects across the estate – to do so effectively you will need to have a consistent approach to:

  • Planning and prioritisation: when planning and prioritising projects you should have transparent processes for identifying, defining, appraising and prioritising projects and clear responsibilities for those involved with investment and expenditure decisions.
  • Project delivery: You should have a strong approach to project delivery, including managing contract performance and evaluating the outcomes of investment.

Find out more about estate projects.

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