Thursday, 15 October 2009

Some Good News

It's really nice to bring some good news as opposed to the low level grumbling I often seem to find myself writing. Today we heard that the school has been shortlisted in two PfS Excellence in BSF Awards categories: Best Refurbished School and Most Inspirational OutsideSpace. In addition, Jestico and Whiles (our architects) has been shortlisted for Best Client Design Advisor for their work in Newham.

Looking back over my blog I think I have been consistently high in my praise for Jestico & Whiles, so obviously think the nominations are well deserved. The winners are announced on November 12th, so fingers crossed for them and also, I guess, us.

If you are interested in looking around our award nominated facilities, we are holding a Drop-in event on 20 October between 4.30 and 6pm (last tour at 5.30), so come along for a guided tour, a cup of tea and a flapjack. Anyone is welcome.

In other news, things are settling down after the chaos at the beginning of the term, and plans are already beginning for the third and final decant next May/June. I suspect decants must be like childbirth with memories of the pain diminishing as time goes by. Many of the problems we faced with ICT and facilities are now under control, and the focus at present is establishing how services will run on an ongoing basis. FM has had about 5 months to establish itself (though much still needs to be resolved on contractual division of duties), but the ICT service really feels as if everything has just been thrown up in the air and we're waiting to see how the bits land. If nothing else it has made me:

a) realise I neither knew nor cared about toners, cables, bulbs, white-board pens etc. I now need to know lots about them and am climbing a steep slope of learning.
b) appreciate how much we took for granted.

Hmm. That's beginning to sound like low-level grumbling. I'll stop now.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

I'm pleased to report that the Big Move is complete and the school is pretty much settled in. The summer break was far from relaxing for those of us on site who spent hours and wore out a great deal of shoe leather trying to get the building right. The premature departure of two people from the Local Education Partnership who should have been very involved in the move was extremely unfortunate to say the least, and yet again too much responsibility fell on school staff to get things right. The summer also brought into sharp relief the problems with the BSF programme's drive to fix things that aren't broken (or are just slightly frayed around the edges). This was exacerbated, I believe, by resourcing issues due to so many areas of the country going live with BSF at once. Some key aspects of provision are still not right, and some areas of the curriculum are being significantly affected by that.

The first paragraph sounds a bit sulky and negative, and it would of course be naive to expect a big move to go ahead without any problems at all. People are working hard to address the problems and things seem to get a little better each day.

There are also many positives. The building has been really well received by staff and students alike. The rooms are spacious, the colours look great and you really can't see where old and new join. Even the core-ten cladding's mellowing rapidly. Some of the staff teams are absolutely chuffed to bits with what they've got, and everyone's better off than they were. Ironically most of the teams who are now in temporary accommodation also have better facilities than they had last year as the unrefurbished part of the school grew more and more dingy and depressing as each month went by last year. The new areas seem to have had a really positive affect on students and the atmosphere seems a lot more calm than it did previously.

Over the past few weeks I have shown round students plus parties from Essex, Newham and Hertfordshire schools who are about to enter BSF (many of whom apparently read this blog, so "hello and thank-you" to them). Even when I'm having a rotten day, as soon as I start showing people around I realise how proud of the whole thing I am, and what a great job's been done on the building. I hope seeing the building and hearing about our experience has been helpful for them too.

We're well over the half way stage now. In May '10 we have our next and final Big Move, and then the school will be landscaped for full handover in September '10. A lot of the planning for the works that are currently taking place has happened so things should get a lot easier from here on in. I won't know what to do with myself.

On October 20th we will be having an Open Evening for anyone who wants to come and have a look around. I'll put more details up here once we've fine tuned the programme, but if you're interested in seeing the school put a note in your diary now. You might even get a free glass of wine and a cheesy football or two.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Really Big Move

Packing for the really big move officially began on Friday, although unofficially staff have been packing for days now. The arrival of 1,000 crates on 1 July made it feel very real. The move is an enormous logistical exercise. Virtually every room moves either into the new block or out of the old block into temporary accommodation, with the added complication of some rooms changing function (e.g. from general classroom to science lab or office). The Science Technicians have drawn up an enormous list of chemicals in need of disposal, most of which I've never heard of, and are labelled with frightening attributes such as "corrosive", "toxic" and "explosive". I'm curious about what the "unknown solid" might be.

Friday was good humoured, despite the lack of labels, bin bags, crate seals, bubble wrap and cages for the multitude of odd shaped items in art and music. Amazingly, despite half the school packing, we managed to re-room and cover all the lessons and theoretically had a whole school in. Early next week we should finish off the task of labelling every single stick of furniture as either move, leave, store or throw away. Only complete junk will be thrown, and I'm pleased to say a lot of the old furniture, much of which is wooden and installed in 1969, will be shipped of to a school in Cameroon. It's amazing how attached some people are to certain pieces of furniture, and I've felt so cruel telling them they can't have it in the new building. The wooden desks seem to particularly inspire fierce loyalty. I've decided it's definitely best to label things unobserved.

Recently I've had dreams that I don't need an analyst to explain. A couple of nights ago I dreamt the wrong type of chair was delivered. Last night I dreamt the builders ran out of grey carpet tiles, so were forced to use brown 70's splash patterned carpet. I'm looking forward to this all being over so I can get back to dreaming about my teeth falling out or missing a flight.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Not the Last Post

Anyone who's looked in on the site since October 2008 will have spotted... well, absolutely nothing. I had been doing so well, making a point of blogging regularly. I'd even been getting visitors and comments, so what happened?

In one of my last posts I made reference to the fact that we still hadn't reached financial close. Financial close finally happened in November, almost a year after the first projected date. Getting there was tough and bad-tempered, a process complicated by the fact that as well as climbing a paperwork mountain, we were also trying to do things that would usually happen post-FC, but that couldn't wait because building work was well under way. I cannot start to tell you the hours spent on small power, windows, room layouts, key strategies and CCTV, to mention just a few things. This blog is something I do out of hours, and the thought of coming home and writing about something that was frying my brain during the working day was not something I relished, so it kind of ground to a halt. And then someone put a big fat BSF blog button on the new SNS website, so I took the less than subtle hint and here we are.

So, what's happened since my last post? The simple answer is lots. The ever rolling cast of people involved in BSF continues to roll, although it seems to have stabilised of late. Luckily some key characters have remained in place throughout and an honourable mention must go to the builders & architects. In May our Premises Team moved over to the new company, a shift that went suprisingly well even for the staff involved. In lots of ways it has lightened my load as I was reponsible for many of the things that have been transferred over, and the woman who runs the help desk (apparently it's her on her own in a huge barn built with future expansion in mind!) is genuinely very helpful.

Most importantly the first phase of building is almost complete, and plans are well under way for an enormous move in July. Virtually every space moves either into the new area of the building, or out into temporary accommodation ready for the next phase. The builders are throwing tradesfolk (metaphorically) at the site to get it completed in time. Furniture and ICT have been ordered and it's just a nail biting wait to see whether we got it right. Yesterday we started training for the new ICT network. ICT remains an area we are still not entirely at ease with. It would be unfair to say that access to ICT won't widen in September, but the pot of money doesn't really seem to have stretched that far and there are aspects of the solution that we are still not happy with or unclear about. On the plus side, we will be retaining our Network Manager, which we hadn't expected, and working with RM has become a much more positive experience since contracts were signed.

I'm really looking forward to getting in to the new block. Morale amongst staff has been pretty low this year, and I hope that moving in will make them feel it was all worth it. I took the student design group around a couple of weeks ago, and they were really excited. They obviously enjoyed seeing the things they had worked on, but little things like running between classrooms to hear the difference acoustic panels makes also seemed to give them great pleasure. And ultimately they're the ones we're doing this all for.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Something Interesting

Here's something Nick found on the internet the other night. I don't know why he was doing this in his spare time, but it's an interesting find. Quite how they crammed that number of students on to the site I don't know, but I guess there were at least 30 in every class, where we now have lower numbers (20ish) in practical subjects.

Clissold Park School

Re-typing of a newspaper article, (date and provenance unknown) in the files of the Planning Dept. It is yellowed and incomplete. Probably about 1960

Full details of the new Clissold Park School, which is being built in Clissold Road, Stoke Newington, were released at a press conference held in the old school in Palatine Road last Friday. Boys and girls from the present upper and lower schools will move into the new building in September.

The £1 million pound school will accommodate 1723 pupils as opposed to the present 1000 crammed into the present buildings, where some classes have to be taken in a converted cloakroom. The sixth form will be expanded from 90 to about 225, and the range of facilities is exceptionally wide.


The new school will offer its senior pupils many alternatives to sports and games, and the emphasis is very much on the arts. To this end a large multi-purpose theatre with room for up to 200 is being built, as well as the games hall at the other end of the building which covers 6,500 square feet.
Clissold Park School will be one of the first schools to dispense with the traditional assembly hall. Instead, there are various smaller halls, and the sixth form will have two common rooms and a coffee bar. The central feature of the groups of three-storey buildings is an 18 foot wide concourse running right through where the old Church Walk used to be.
At last Friday's conference, the headmaster, Mr. T. C. Willcocks, spoke of the wide range of subjects available to his pupils, and he said that 61 % of them were immigrants – of 26 nationalities and speaking 21 languages. They were encouraged to take “A” levels in their own languages.


Mr. Willcocks felt that the school's curriculum would improve in its new premises, and he also expected that the present ”work preparation” scheme – whereby pupils on go to work at local firms for short periods in order to see how they are suited for the jobs they want – will be expanded. As far as social services are concerned, he said that an old people's home was just nearby, and there was room for further activity in that direction.
Mr. G. Stillman, of Stillman and Eastwick Field, the architects, said that the new school was “like a university college, with different forms of buildings all about three storeys high”.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A bit of a cheat

The push to get us to financial close continues to be a bit all consuming, but I'm determined to keep on bloggin'. One of the things I've been charged with doing is keeping staff abreast of developments. We have started a fortnightly BSF staff group, and the minutes of this are circulated, but on alternate weeks I've agreed to send out a building update. I thought I'd post this week's update to give you a small flavour of life on half a building site. I promise I won't make a habit of this.

"Firstly just to let you know that the builders will be using this Thursday pm and Friday to make a whole heap of noise, so please be aware and arrange to keep away from the site borders for interviews etc.

Over half term some major, major works will take place (e.g. staircase removal) which will literally make the whole building shake, the effects of which can be described by people who were around over the summer. Please do not arrange any activities in the school main building for that week. It should be OK to go in the temporary classrooms, but please notify Dionne or the Schoolkeepers if that is what you plan to do. There will be excavation around the L block, so this will be completely out of bounds. The sixth form loos will be inaccessible to students during lesson time from half-term onwards as the D stairs will be coming out.

The second generator will be arriving Thursday pm and installed on Friday & Saturday. There may be a need to take electricity down on Friday, but we really hope this won’t be necessary.

Electricity will need to come off in the main block this Friday from 4pm. This will mean that the network will also come down and not be available again until Saturday.

The frame for the new block will be delivered during w/c 20th October and will be installed over the following 2 weeks. The concrete will be poured for the ground floor slabs on Friday.

The area on the boundary of the building works has suffered particularly from noise, although there is an agreement that there should only be low-level noise during lesson time. One of the main causes is the need to punch through floors/ceilings to create spaces for the risers that will contain the new services. Apparently there is a large amount of structural intervention needed in this area.

Over the next few days there will be localised drilling around the 6th form study area, which is necessary in order to prepare for the new block being attached to it. This should be outside of lesson time only. The wooden partition will soon be replaced with a wall, which will considerably improve acoustic separation.

Further works to improve the whiteboard installation in the temporary classrooms will take place on Thursday & Friday.

I will be trying to get to see Heads of Department/Faculty about room layouts over the next few days. For phase 2 departments I need agreement about the teaching wall only. The rest of the room layout follows from that."

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Anything that can go wrong.

Well I hadn't realised how long it's been since I posted. Where did the summer go?

My excuse is that I waited for most of the holidays for something to happen, only to be assaulted by a flurry of activity of a fraught nature at the beginning of September. Anyone involved in school support services will know how awful the beginning of the academic year can be. You can plan for the predictable, but you're just waiting for the unpredictable to happen. If you put major building works into the mix, then you have a noxious cocktail of possibilities.

Before I begin the list I want to say the builders continue to be great and just swoop in and sort things as quickly as they can even if it's not really to do with them. They must dread my name coming up on their mobiles. Without them dealing with things so efficiently and with astonishingly good humour, the start of term would have been doubly as bad, which is a very scary thought. The builders have decided that the site is indeed cursed - a conclusion Nick the Network Manager came to a couple of summers back. And just to compound Nick's always being right-ness, they have also discovered that anything you touch on a Friday just breaks.

In the first two weeks we had:

  • Electricity & network service missing in certain sections of the "old building".
  • Generator failure for unrelated reasons on three occasions, each of which left us without power or networks in the new block for around three hours. (including last Friday) You don't realise how much modern teaching relies on electricity until this happens. The teachers were having to be very creative. I suggested to the Economics teacher he should do the Winter of Discontent.
  • Problems with water supply resulting in no toilet facilities or drinking water for exactly the staff team you wouldn't want without drinking water or toilet facilities. (last Friday)
  • Major demolition on the site boundaries causing noise so loud the teachers couldn't be heard.
  • Problems in the temporary reprographics room because of the arrival of Autumn and the moisture that brings to a room full of paper with no electricity out of hours.
  • Ongoing issues with room allocations as a result of the decant. We've had to give up on a few solutions and take some drastic measures.
  • Very unpleasant difficulties with the drainage to the sixth form toilets. (last Friday)
  • Complete network failure totally unrelated to BSF and resulting in no network for a day and a half. Unfortunately this was at a completely separate time to the generator failure. At one stage it looked as if we'd have to have it repaired on a Friday afternoon, except the replacement switch got trapped in Amsterdam due to the fire in the Channel Tunnel.

Anyway, the good news is that things are far more settled now and no-one's shouted at me in the car park for a good few days. Always a good thing. As I've said before the staff are generally a laid back and cheerful bunch, so it just shows how tough a start of term it has been. Things are beginning to bite as we now have a full school and the onset of winter and moving into the new building still feels far away. It's a tribute to all concerned that the student guides at the Open Evening seemed completely relaxed about the whole thing, and prospective parents seemed far from put off by the building works.

Oh, and we still haven't reached financial close....

Anyway, I promise I will resume frequent and more positive posting activities now things are more settled. Sorry.