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Agenda

Answers your questions.

OUR caretaker seems to do what he likes and not much of that. Rooms are not ready for teachers at the start of the day; small repairs are not done, often leaving safety hazards; security can be careless; and people who use the school out-of-hours grumble that service is poor and they do not get what they pay for. Also the cleaning standard is low and the school meals service has worsened. The head wrings her hands but what can she do? Who is responsible?

I will assume yours is a community school. Voluntary-aided schools are slightly different in that the governors are the employers of the staff, both teaching and non-teaching. Technically the local education authority is the employer in community and controlled schools. But in terms of day-to-day management there is little difference and the answers will be very similar.

So many school services are now put out to contract and awarded, at least partly, on price that responsibility for them can be slippery. However, there is no doubt that, since local management of schools was introduced, governors are responsible for every aspect of the school's policies and the head for day-to-day operation. The latter includes management of staff and of contracts made on the school's behalf.

In large schools, site and services matters may be delegated to a deputy or even a bursarsite manager, but the head is accountable. The caretaker will have a contract setting out duties and the head must tackle any non-fulfilment of it. The LEA will no doubt advise if things get difficult.

The caretaker manages other "caretaking" staff employed directly by the school, for example, cleaners or grounds staff, and should also check every day that contractors are carrying out their duties, consulting the head if need be. Caretakers also routinely deal with lettings and the preparation of rooms for bookings, and make sure that conditions for these are met on both sides.

If the caretaker or any directly employed staff member is performing badly and not responding to requests, there may be a case for formal disciplinary procedures which the head and governors will undertake. I hope you will be especially mindful of your health and safety responsibility.

As for contracted-out work, if it is an LEA-wide contract then obviously the head will approach the LEA about any shortcomings. If the contract is with the school - as meals contracts now generally are - and the head fails to secure improvement, he or she should bring the matter to governors who will decide on appropriate action.

School meals can be particularly difficult to manage: the service is vital, has so many aspects, and has to be continuous, and it is not always easy to find alternative contractors. But although the LEA will, I am sure, always be happy to advise, poor performance by any company contracted directly by the school or any person employed by the school has to be tackled first by the head and ultimately governors. Hand-wringing is no use.

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