We are one year on from the launch of the Department for Education’s guide to estate management, in which the DfE directed schools to a strategic approach to the management of their estates. The goal is to ensure the estate supports the school’s educational needs and aims. This is more important than ever in present circumstances.

Having helped many clients with estate projects over the years, the benefits of good estate strategy are clear to us at Stone King – an estate that suits the educational requirements of the pupils should lead to higher levels of attainment; and a well-managed estate should reduce costs, lead to efficient use of land and buildings and increase the potential of the estate for additional income generation; which are helpful at a time of financial constraint.

What can schools do?

The range of potential projects is large - from the major one-off projects to the smaller agreements which provide a regular income stream. Schools might consider the sale of unused land to provide a capital sum for the improvement of facilities in order to better the use of the estate for educational purposes. They may work with the local authority to undertake a building project to increase the capacity of the school. Or, at the other end of the scale, schools might make their facilities available for use by the local community outside school hours. Agreements for the use of car parking at the weekend, leases to a local pre-school, or leases to telecoms operators are other ideas that schools might consider. The potential and range of estate options is huge.

Of course, for schools to use their land well and implement such projects they will need the right skills in place and they will need to have access to expert advice. Regulation and scrutiny around schools is high and mistakes can easily be made.

That said, the most important estate management for all schools is not project-based but merely the basics – schools must have a good understanding of their land and buildings, so that the boundaries and nature of their ownership are known. Even at that level the picture can be unclear and complicated.

What are the implications when a school converts to an academy?

On that note, one of the situations we have often encountered in advising schools on conversion to academy status is the question of how to move forward when the land arrangements have not been finalised. Often a tenancy at will – terminable by the local authority landlord or the academy on immediate notice at any time – or other short term arrangement was entered into as a means of “papering over the cracks”. However, as with many things in life, what was intended to be a short-term arrangement only will often morph into a longer-term arrangement, leaving the school in a potentially perilous situation and making estate management much more difficult than it should be – when it comes to decisions around use and management of the site academies will be beholden to the freehold landowner rather than in control of their own destiny. These situations can be incredibly unhelpful and ought to be rectified as soon as possible. If you need any help, please call us.