10 tips for school summer building works

  • Summer is often the time when schools undertake a variety of maintenance and improvement work
  • This work can overrun, causing unforeseen disruption to students and staff when they return from the summer break
  • It is important to consider how you will respond in the event of overrunning work to ensure this disruption is minimised

Schools often undertake essential maintenance, improvements or construction over the summer holidays when disruption can be kept to a minimum. 

While the six- to seven-week break may seem like ample time for extensions to be made, fittings to be installed and even new buildings to be constructed, unforeseen circumstances such as damage caused as a result of works, adverse weather and supply problems can prevent their timely completion, leaving you with a difficult choice to make.

Do you delay the opening of the school until works are finished, or allow students and staff to study and work in potentially hazardous conditions? Since the former option may disrupt timetables, which are carefully planned around exams, for many schools, the latter is the only option. Martin Clemmit, Risk Consultant for Zurich Municipal, has some tips to minimise the pitfalls:

1. Have a contingency plan

Building delays are common so if your school is considering having work done, start planning early.

“This should be done well in advance,” says Clemmit. “It’ll mean consulting your building contractors to discuss the type of work they’re doing so you can plan accordingly. You may also want to ask them what can be done to speed up the process, like having temporary accommodation onsite so that working time can be maximised.”

2. Communicate

If you haven’t got a contingency plan, and building work is overrunning, it’s time to start talking.

There needs to be a dialogue between the school, the building contractor and the local authority or relevant strategic partner.  Everyone needs to discuss how much time it will take to complete and what the impact will be. Once this is known, you then need to make sure students, parents and staff know what’s going on.

3. Re-evaluate risk

Over the summer, contractors will be able to work without disrupting classes or conducting potentially hazardous tasks near students and staff. But when building work continues into the new term, it’s imperative that schools and contractors re-evaluate risks.

“A new risk assessment must be undertaken, this will be based on the type of work being done, how exposed students and staff will be, the potential to segregate it from the normal running of the school and how much supervision staff can provide.

There could be, for example, hot works involving open flames. Ideally these should never be done near anyone but trained professionals, but always under a permit-to-work system explicitly specifying the control measures that need to be in place. These are the sorts of things to consider. Schools must also make sure that students do not disrupt the contractors from their work.”

4. Background checks

Similarly, if contractors will be working around children and vulnerable adults, measures and checks need to be taken.

This is especially important when building work cannot be segregated from the running of the school and additional supervision cannot be provided.

Contract staff should be given appropriate background checks, a code of conduct to make sure they know where they can and cannot go in school, and must also wear visible photo ID.

5. Update your insurance

Since your school will be functioning alongside dangerous building work, you must make sure you’re still insured. If a local authority runs your school, check your policy with them. If you’re an academy, free or independent school, consult your insurers directly.

This should be planned before any work starts, but if there are any changes, then make sure your relevant strategic partner knows. Insurance varies between providers and schools, so it’s important to keep all information up to date.

6. Work together

“Sharing and allocating responsibility is vital to ensure everyone’s safety,” says Clemmit. “The contracting agency is responsible for its workforce and for anyone affected by it, and the school is responsible for its staff, students and visitors.”

Work with your contractors to make sure risk assessments are updated along with changes, building progress is accounted, and safety barriers like fences around construction sites are maintained. Accidents should be logged by both the school and the contractor and investigated together. Your school should not be incurring additional costs, however, so if you have concerns, voice them.

7. Secure your school

While contractors are on site, a suitable means of security is needed to protect their equipment from theft, building works from damage and vandalism, and to ensure that the school is safe from burglary.

The level of security required depends on the school.  Consult the contractors to see what their requirements are and work out an agreement. A thorough lockdown procedure should be adopted by both parties, and schools should assess whether building apparatus, such as scaffolding, could be exploited by thieves.

8. Overhaul routine safety procedures

With the influx of machinery and vehicles coming into your school, it’s necessary to take special precautions, and routine safety operations must be adapted to these exceptional circumstances.

Make sure you manage traffic movements.  There should be a separate entrance for construction traffic, but if that’s not possible, arrivals should be timed to maintain safety.

Fire drills should also reflect these changes. Clemmit says: “Schools should check whether fire escape routes to assembly points – both inside and outside – are still accessible. Most of all, alert your staff to any changes so they can respond appropriately.”

9. Don’t put up with mess

Given the nature of building work, things can get untidy. However, contract work should not disrupt the running of your school. If equipment or debris is left unattended, make sure a supervising contractor is made aware of the issue immediately.

It is the contractor’s responsibility to make sure that the site is cleared when all building work is complete. This includes scaffolding, fencing and all waste material. There may be work that’s producing dust – this is also the responsibility of the contractor to fix. Nothing should be left to the school.

10. Treat it as an opportunity

“We tend to think about the negatives when building work has overrun, but there are positives,” says Clemmit. “Children can see how buildings are made, which is an amazing opportunity.”

If appropriate, consult your contractor to see if there are any ways of meaningfully engaging with the construction. “There may be some school projects that could be undertaken around the construction itself,” continues Clemmit. “You could even invite contractors to give talks in assembles about job opportunities and careers in construction.”

Most of all, if you hadn’t planned for building work to overrun, learn from it. Document your experiences and consult your contractors, staff, students and parents, so that next time it won’t be a surprise.