School estate safety

From Leader magazine - 2020 Spring Term 1

Leaders must be confident that their school estate is safe and suitable for use. ASCL Specialist Hayley Dunn says you can ensure the safety of your school estate by taking a strategic approach, where appropriate processes and policies are in place and followed.

What should you focus on?

Start by checking that the fundamentals are in place. If you are not certain what these are, access the free DfE self-assessment tool to help you to identify any gaps (see

It is recommended you have an estate vision and strategy, supported by an asset management plan that is kept current and actively used by the necessary staff, and approved by the governing board. Your asset management plan is a useful way to record how you will meet your vision by setting out the short and medium-term actions required to deliver your strategy. It is essential there are clear lines of responsibility and accountability, with transparent delegated responsibility for estate management, particularly when it comes to ensuring that statutory compliance and safety checks are completed and recorded.

You must have documented health and safety policies and procedures and ensure that essential knowledge and understanding is cascaded down to pupils, staff and visitors as appropriate. An essential part of the lead site management role is carrying out or supervising the statutory compliance activities. It is vital to know what should be done and how the school is performing against the requirements, ensuring that a clear system of recording compliance is in place.

A register of all known and potential asbestos must be kept for all school sites. There must also be a written plan identifying the areas affected and the measures in place for managing the risk placed by potential exposure to asbestos. The plan must be regularly reviewed and expert advice sought. For more detail on this you can access the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) Asbestos Management in Schools guidance at

A fire risk assessment is essential and should include fire precautions and the procedures in place to support the maintenance of detection and awareness systems. These should be regularly reviewed, tested and updated.

What emergency planning should you be doing?

All school leaders will regularly test a school’s procedure for site evacuation, but this can also be extended to scenario preparation and practise exercises for other risks, such as a bomb threat, a gas leak or a violent intruder. These are the types of threats we all hope we will never have to face, but we can help staff and pupils to be prepared. This also extends to threats against ICT infrastructure, which could harm sensitive pupil and staff data or damage expensive equipment. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has free resources to assist you in practising your response to cyber incidents. Its ‘Exercise in a Box’ online tool provides you with several scenarios, based on common cyber threats – see

How can you manage the performance of site staff?

The Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL) Professional Standards ( can be used for self-assessment and performance management and includes a section on infrastructure that goes into detail about capital projects, resources and facilities management, grounds maintenance and ICT. At the most basic level (Tier 1), school business professionals with some responsibility for infrastructure should understand “the school’s/ trust’s plans and priorities in general and the specifics of short-term planning” and “understand the need for long-term capital plans”.

Effective and efficient estate management will reduce the risks of harm associated with buildings, while good and regular maintenance can support the prevention of large-scale capital expenditure and unnecessary disruption to teaching and learning. 

Hayley Dunn
ASCL Business Leadership Specialist

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