Whilst the world tries to adapt to a “new normal”, schools and education providers have been one of the few services that have had to “carry on” and have continued to provide structured learning for children and young people across the country.
The majority of schools in Torbay remained open during lockdown, providing care and learning to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers. Now, as we move through a possible “second wave”, schools remain open to as many pupils as possible whilst still keeping young people and staff safe.
From a building perspective this presents a significant challenge to schools and Torbay Council as we try to ensure social distancing requirements are adhered to, but with the same number of pupils and the same buildings as schools had before the pandemic. If overcrowding, lack of space and large class sizes were an issue before, they are even more so now under our “new normal.”
Many schools have been incredibly creative in the way they have implemented the distance requirements, introducing one-way systems, new entrance and exit points, pod classrooms and external learning spaces.
TDA’s Education Team has been able to help many schools implement these ideas and we can see how costly some of these new measures have been, putting even more pressure on already stretched resources. Where possible we have tried to help schools access additional funding specifically for new COVID measures.
One thing for certain is how impressed I have been with how our Property Services colleagues and the contractors they work with have adapted and carried on under difficult circumstances. Colleagues have carefully worked around schools as they manage their own challenges and have still delivered education projects in a timely and cost-effective way.
We have seen 2 very large projects complete since the start of the pandemic and I have been a little surprised and pleased that these projects have been delivered on budget and with minimal delay, despite all the restrictions that have been in place.
And now……schools are back full-time, hopefully without further interruptions so it is carry on as “normal.” So the Education Team are again fully involved in the annual Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) application round for Academies, assisting 4 different schools with applications this year.
TDA are also managing and implementing existing and new projects to provide school places to meet the growing demand, particularly in Paignton.
The Education Team are currently working on prioritising the next phase of repairs and maintenance works for maintained schools and although the majority of our meetings are via Zoom, we are still lucky enough to be able to go to site from time to time, of course adhering to all the new safety guidance.
The work remains varied as this week alone I have been involved in discussions about the use of air-handling units during a pandemic, the need for extra, usable outside space during the Winter months and how schools can continue to use their buildings creatively to deliver a broad curriculum at the same time as ensuring safety standards.
For TDA’s Education Team the pandemic has meant new working practices, based at home full-time, but we are still able to deliver our statutory functions and manage projects and funding applications for both maintained schools and academies in a professional and effective way. So for us it is important that we continue to provide that support and expert advice for schools during challenging times with the focus very much on “Keep Calm and Carry On …Building!”