Good Estate Management for Schools (GEMS): Taking a strategic approach

By Robert Gould, Partner, Barker Associates

The DfE’s Good Estate Management for Schools (GEMS) guidance is a thorough and practical tool for helping those with responsibility for school estates plan and optimise their actions. Here we summarise some of the fundamentals and how to take the first steps in implementing them.

The benefits of taking a strategic approach to estates management are clear:
  • Reduce your operational costs
  • Get value for money
  • Make better investment decisions
  • Create safe, compliant learning environments
  • Reduce carbon emissions
And it all starts with having a strategy. It is an often-missed step but taking the time to create an estates vision is a powerful action. Your estates vision is the critical link between the educational goals of the organisation and what practical actions you take in managing the estate. It focuses and amplifies your actions and helps you concentrate your resources where they are most needed.

If you can get buy-in from others in your organisation and together create a compelling vision for your school, or college, or university or trust, that’s when real progress can be made. That’s when you can get on this virtuous circle of improvement, fundraising, money saving and investment that will help you move from firefighting to taking real steps forward.

Strategic approach
This strategic approach generally follows the same basic structure whether you are a single school or a larger trust:
  • Create an estates vision
  • Create an estate strategy
  • Produce and implement your Asset Management Plan
  • Implement a monitoring and review process
Once you have your vision, you need an understanding of your estate. Firstly, that means accurate data on building condition and the costs associated with the required remedial works over a 5-10-year period. But also, information on the suitability and sufficiency of the buildings to deliver the curriculum. All too often we throw money at creating more space before we have looked at using what we have in the most efficient way.

So, you have a vision and you have a thorough understanding of where you are. Your Asset Management Plan is the list of actions for getting from where you are to where you want to be. The GEMS website gives you some great questions in the form of checklists for this sort of thing.

Below are what we think are the key ones:
  • Are we managing the estate effectively? Do you have a vision/strategy in place and agreed at senior level?
  • What is the condition of the buildings? An independent view of condition and priority for the next 5-10 years.
  • Are we complying with our legal responsibilities? Do you have a thorough understanding of statutory obligations and a plan for meeting and monitoring them?
  • What funding is available? Have you explored and maximised opportunities for securing additional capital investment?
  • Are we spending wisely on the estate? As well choosing what we spend money on, are we getting best value through our procurement and project management policies?
Small breakthrough – big results
This might all sound easy on paper and the reality is often a struggle to simply keep buildings open and operational. But with the right vision and approach sometimes just a small breakthrough can have huge results. Working with a committed Finance Director at a secondary school in Suffolk we manged to win grant funding for new roof coverings.

But rather than leave it there, the school then secured commercial funding for PV panels on those roofs. That system generated a small surplus income that was used to pump-prime a project to replace the external cladding which has made a massive impact on both the look and feel of the building. The aesthetic impact has helped the drive for higher pupil numbers and the improving finances enabled the completion of a new boiler room.

At the current time, the biggest single opportunity for schools to get on this virtuous circle of saving and investment is through energy efficiency. There is a lot of information in the sector about different schemes and technologies but the starting point is straightforward. Changing all of your lighting to LED and installing Solar PV panels will reduce both utilities costs and carbon emissions for the majority of schools.

Funding is no longer a barrier. The price of a solar photovoltaic module has almost halved since 2010. In the last two decades the cost of LED lights has decreased by over 20 times with brightness improved 40 times over. The costs are at a point now where government support is no longer required to make a viable business case. Funding schemes are widely available which enable adoption of these technologies which provide a surplus income with little or no capital outlay required.

With recent energy price inflation and on the eve of COP26, everyone associated with school estate management should be looking at energy efficiency as a top priority to save both money, and the planet.

Barker Associates are an ASCL Premier Partner and sponsors of the Autumn Leadership Conferences 2021
Posted: 19/10/2021 06:53:34