All hail the tireless fixer-uppers of crumbling schools

Without them, we’d be flooded, filthy and probably locked out, says Emma Turner – she honours the school premises team

school premises manager, caretaker, unsung heroes

The term is ended; long live the new ruler! 

Nope. This isn’t about our new prime minister. It is about the often-overlooked oilers of educational wheels. The people who ensure that our frequently underfunded and therefore crumbling buildings don’t collapse into a pile of pluming dust. And they’re also pretty adept at finding keys.

It is, of course, the premises team, led nobly by the chief of fobs, the premises officer.


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The title “caretaker” has fallen out of fashion. Nor is it representative of the wide-reaching work these tireless fixer-uppers and strategic planners carry out. But it seems slightly sad that the word “care” is no longer in their job title, as it is with total care for the pupils, staff and communities that they use their enviable array of skills, patience and knowledge.

My last premises officer was never knowingly under-DIYed, and could fix anything from a broken boiler to a blocked drain, and then go on to project-manage a massive new building project. He also knew exactly what to do when a veritable menagerie of creatures descended on the playground, whether it was a giant swarm of bees, a swan or a horse.

Integrity and moral purpose

This premises offer took extra time out of his day to chat with those children who found school a little tough, and would always patiently explain the tools he was using and the techniques he was employing to enquiring little minds who were fascinated by Mr M and his magical ability to make any broken item whole again.

He is a man driven by true integrity and moral purpose. During his holidays from school he’s often to be found travelling the world, using his skills to help rebuild communities and schools across the globe. It’s all done quietly and without fanfare, springing from a desire to help everyone who needs anything, whether by mending squeaky doors in Leicestershire or by helping entire communities halfway across the world. 

Our premises teams ensure that we have traction on slippy winter days, that we have at least one person on site who can encourage the obstreperous fire alarm system to relent and be quiet, that we can go about our business of teaching and learning in functioning rooms which are lit, heated and not likely to cause an electrical firestorm in the immediate future. They’re our right hands in a crisis, be it a flood, a heating malfunction, a ceiling collapse or the discovery of asbestos under the hall floor. 

They ensure all little tasks are completed for which they rarely receive praise but which, if left undone, would be noticed in a heartbeat. When we traipse out onto the fields, we rarely stop to think who has ensured the grass has been cut or the perimeter fence secured. When we’re in the middle of a classroom move and are bemoaning the upheaval, we rarely think of the person whose responsibility it was to ensure all the appropriately sized furniture was audited, so that Year 1 aren’t balanced precariously on overly large chairs and Year 6 aren’t wedged under miniature tables. When we assemble on that beautiful varnished hall floor, we don’t stop and think about the hours spent sanding, revarnishing and buffing it into its mirror-like September glory – and woe betide the person who tramps over that floor during the summer holidays.

Landscape of dust sheets

Yes, our premises teams are hard at work over the summer, often in a mass of tangled scaffold, ladders, paint pots and power tools. Across a landscape of dust sheets, with radios blasting, they transform, tinker and titivate. 

Yes, as many of us take the opportunity over the holidays to enjoy the change of pace that not being wedded to a timetable affords us, our premises teams attend to their summer to-do lists, filled with tasks that would’ve been too dangerous or disruptive to attempt during term-time. 

They’re also the nightly heroes who are regularly roused from their beds by a call from the school's security company when the alarm has been tripped by the wayward floating of an ill-fixed display. Those elaborate reading corners and suspended works of art that decorate our classrooms and corridors are literally the stuff of nightmares for our premises officers, who regularly find that the “Wow word” display could probably do with a couple of profanities added, after the third call-out in a month.

And they’re always there, stacking chairs in record time for every after-school event from Christmas productions to governors’ meetings. They’re the ones who find the Christmas tree every year and know exactly how to wrestle the gazebo up and down on sports day. Yet they are rarely given the plaudits or applause granted to those who are centre stage.

Every hinge, catch and buzzer

They know every hinge, every catch, every buzzer, every switch and they are the guardians of our educational home. They battle the elements with ever-dwindling resources and supplies, and ensure as much as possible that the building doesn’t feel the pinch and its inhabitants don’t feel the cold or the damp.

Yes, they are a dedicated and selfless team. There from dawn till dusk and busy even during these quiet summer months. Without them, we’d be flooded, filthy and most probably locked out, while an unknown alarm screams somewhere. Yes, our premises teams are the engine rooms of our schools.

Now, if you do pop into school over the summer, remember to do them a favour and find another way around the building that doesn’t involve walking across the hall floor – oh, and double-staple your displays. 

Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Academy Trust, Leicestershire. She tweets as @Emma_Turner75 

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