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Glasgow schools 'are miles better'

As politicians limber up to kick around the political football that is PPP, Neil Munro talks to the man in one of the hottest seats

THERE are very few claims that Joe Linney will not make for the success of the public private partnership (PPP) initiative in Glasgow - from better exam scores to less vandalism.

But the general manager of the 3ED consortium ("education, education, education"), which is in charge of the pound;1.2 billion renewal and management of the city's 29 secondary schools, also looks back ruefully.

Mr Linney acknowledges that consultation could have been handled differently - the consortium was often "piggy in the middle". He claims its hands were tied by commercial confidentiality during the bidding stage and, after it won the contract, there were then fiscal and educational constraints.

Glasgow City Council did lay on roadshows and arranged for a group of heads and senior management to provide feedback on designs. Some changes were made as a result, such as revamped entrances and corridors. These included an additional pound;1.2 million for "headteachers' changes" aimed at making schools function better from a management point of view.

But Mr Linney says: "We felt hard done by because the council kept fairly tight control over which changes they would allow and which they wouldn't, but the schools did not always know about these decisions.

"So we would turn up, unroll the plans, say what we were aiming to do and the schools said, 'but this isn't what we were expecting'."

The other lesson he offers is: "build more new schools". The Glasgow project involved 11 new buildings and 18 refurbished schools. "You can't always make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," Mr Linney comments.

It could have been worse. Glasgow's original spec, Mr Linney revealed, was for just one new building with the rest refurbished. But 3ED was able to point to savings from knocking down many of the ageing and costly buildings and starting from scratch, which enabled another 10 new schools to be built for the same money.

So, whatever the financial arguments about best value and the political conflicts over "school privatisation", the 3ED boss believes Glasgow has got a good deal - in both senses of the term.

For a pound;225 million initial investment in design and construction and pound;15 million in ICT installation, Glasgow pays pound;41 million a year for the next 28 years to ensure 3ED provides "247 facilities management" for 30,000 pupils (one new primary was also built).

The contract covers buildings and grounds maintenance, security, emergency planning, janitorial and cleaning services, catering equipment, maintaining ICT services, life cycle replacement, utilities and insurance.

Mr Linney points to one key advantage. "In the past, maintenance got done if there was money in the council budget to get it done. But we now have a performance-driven contract and maintenance is built into the price.

"If the repairs are not done, penalties kick in immediately. The beauty of PPP is that whatever state the schools and their grounds were in at the outset - including the significant investment in outdoor facilities - they will be maintained in that condition for the next 28 years. This is a step change in the way that councils maintain their schools."

Mr Linney suggests that speedy repair and maintenance times have significantly reduced vandalism. "That is important because vandalised property left unrepaired attracts more vandalism, so it is in everyone's interests to get things sorted quickly to stop that snowball effect."

The feedback he enjoyed most was when he attended the official openings of the schools where the new facilities and ICT provision came in for unstinting praise. He believes the ICT investment in particular encourages staff to become computer literate. "They know the technology is there, that it is going to work and that it is going to be repaired when things go wrong."

The ICT contract includes a managed service for five years when the facilities will be upgraded.

He points with pride to the positive reaction from Drumchapel High where the pupils made a video of what their new school means to them. Every local P7 pupil is being sent a copy and the school now has money to circulate the video to 4,000 houses in the area.

Even the much criticised move to make classrooms smaller receives no quarter from Mr Linney. "The minimum national requirement is 47 sq metres while the new Glasgow schools are no smaller than 60 sq metres," he points out.

But, given that Glasgow did not just set out on a "bricks and mortar" crusade, Mr Linney believes more fundamental educational advantages have flowed from "Project 2002", as it is known.

There is evidence of better attendance because "a school with an attractive environment makes pupils want to go there". Drumchapel High, for example, reports that attendance is up from 72 per cent to 78 per cent; it is aiming for 80 per cent this year.

Pass rates are also improving, although Mr Linney acknowledges: "It is early days to say that PPP is the cause and that there is a trend; but the early signs are good."

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