I'm tempted to turn down our new building

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
One of the final jobs in the last week of term was to clear out my office again! I'm not moving to a luxurious new study I'm simply moving out in order to move back in again in September. When we returned to school after the holidays last year, we found ourselves with no administration offices, no head, no deputy and no bursar's offices, to name but a few. In addition, we had no sports hall and no changing rooms. We were promised they would all be completed and ready for the start of term. Sadly, the builders failed to live up to their promise.

We managed to get our offices back after about three weeks, but we only got the sports hall and changing room back at the end of December. Despite the delay, the completed works were not good. The new light tunnels to replace our windows let in rain (as well as light) and had to be covered up. The ventilation grills had to be covered because they let in noxious fumes. We are now suffering from trench foot, soggy carpets and seasonal affected disorder from light deficiency, and we have mould growing on the walls.

Any failure on my part to answer letters or pay bills is due to the fact that they got soaked after a very wet year. My staff are not very sympathetic because for years they have been suffering the noise, dust, floods, delays and inconvenience from various building programmes. They think it is now my turn to suffer.

My poor PE staff had to wait a whole term to get the sports hall and changing rooms back and had to reorganise their teaching programme completely. To add insult to injury, the new showers have had to be condemned because of a design fault and are to be replaced during this holiday. Our offices are to be re carpeted and painted and have the mould removed. We hope to be able to move back in at the start of term. However, I am not holding my breath. I have everything I need in a box, so I can sit down with some unlucky colleague if the need arises.

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am usually positive and optimistic, but I confess to a feeling of foreboding about new building projects. This is why Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scares me. We are told that this initiative will transform our schools and I want to believe it. But how can schools survive and thrive while they work around massive building programmes? Our school has been subject to building projects for the 10 years I have been in post, and they really do have an impact on learning. We always manage these issues as best we can, but there is an inevitable payback in terms of staff and pupil morale and well-being.

I know millions of pounds of investment in our building is potentially a good thing, but some buildings cannot be transformed they need to be rebuilt. Our school building was put up in 1976 and is a nightmare (and an expensive one) to maintain. Despite all that has been done to improve it, ours is still a building that is not fit for purpose. We need a new school, but we know that a new school would not necessarily solve the problems. New buildings come with certain restrictions in terms of classroom size, the number of science labs and other facilities. There are some "off the shelf" models' to choose from and we would be unlikely to get the design we really want. Ours is not an ordinary school. It has many features that are not the norm in most schools. How can the BSF programme include our idiosyncrasies? I know we cannot afford not to look a gift horse in mouth, but I am tempted.

Kenny Frederick

is head of George Green's community school in east London

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