Working holiday

SUMMER'S long school holidays are over, so who has been walking the corridors of Suffolk schools during the six week break? What is there that needs to be done before the army of pupils descends once again?

SUMMER'S long school holidays are over, so who has been walking the corridors of Suffolk schools during the six week break?

What is there that needs to be done before the army of pupils descends once again? Education reporter JAMES MARSTON tells the tales of two very different schools.

ON July 21 it was the last day of term.

At the end of the day the corridors fell silent, classrooms were hushed and the playground became still as students and teachers left for their six-week summer break.

But just days after the end of term Northgate High School, in Sidegate Lane, was once a again a hive of activity as the annual round of fixing, repairing, maintaining and building got under way.

Northgate's principal finance officer Linda Walker said: “There is a different atmosphere during the holidays. It is a chance for me to get out of the office and find out what needs to be done, making sure things are ready to avoid disruption when term starts again.

Most Read

“There is a lot to do and a lot of the projects we have during the holidays have very tight schedules. There haven't been too many problems and during the break we have people here on site to deal with difficulties as they arise.”

This summer the school has undertaken a number of projects.


Toilets for the lower school have been gutted and refurbished, costing about £108,000. Work started on the last day of term and will be finished in time for when the students come back. The job couldn't be done while children were there.


Part of the roof was replaced on the administration block, costing £3,200.


Air conditioning has been installed in four classrooms in the art and technology block, at a cost of £16,800.


An area of the grounds has been resurfaced costing £19,000.


A new boundary fence has been erected along Ely Road which cost £8,500.


The stairwells in the science block have been redecorated.


The water tanks have to be cleaned every year. This year it has cost £5,000 to reduce their size and fix a leak.


A new store for the exam desks and uniforms has been created for £37,000.


Caretaking and cleaning teams have also been doing general repairs, clearing hedges, laying carpets and cleaning.

Linda is in charge of a large maintenance team which includes cleaners and caretakers, she also has overall responsibility for the school's money and buildings. She becomes a jack of all trades the moment students leave.

She said: “I open the post, see people that turn up at reception and answer the phone. I need to know what's going on so I can put people who have inquiries in touch with the right people.”

Northgate is a big school with more than 1,600 students and many buildings which require a good deal of looking after. It costs about £7.1million a year to run, most of which is spent on staff salaries. From the budget the school takes £500,000 a year in running costs.

Linda said: “We have a buildings improvement plan and one decision in one part of the school can have an impact on another part of the school.

“We have a further £300,000 in devolved capital funding from the government but held by Suffolk County Council. We spend a lot on premises and managing the site but we are a big school and things don't come cheap.”

Though not responsible for Northgate Sports Centre, the school has an annual repair and maintenance budget of £80,000, a premises improvement budget of £32,000 and a grounds budget of £22,000.

Linda said: “We manage all our own premises entirely. We opted out of county council control as we find we want to control our own decisions. It allows us to tailor our expenditure to what the school needs.

“You sometimes wonder if it will all be ready on time but it will be. There is a great sense of achievement when it is finished. You can go round and see what we have all done.”

Reporting directly to Linda is site manager Keith Davies. It is his job to oversee the day to day running of the site and his biggest job in the summer is to oversee the contractors so they finish within the timescale. About 65 people have worked on the site during the holidays.

Each contracted job is the result of considerable planning.

Keith said: “I always get a minimum of three quotes for each job. Each job goes out to tender and the contractors know they are in competition.”

As we walk round the site, Keith points out new cookers that have just arrived for the home technology department. He admires the paintwork on the stairwell of the science block and warns me not to get to close to newly varnished benches in the school grounds.

Keith knows who's about, what's going on where and what needs to be done.

He said: “The buildings here are no longer new and they need more and more attention as time goes on and the buildings age. Buildings have a honeymoon period of about five to ten years but then the fabric starts to deteriorate and here they are well used by 1,600 students so there is considerable wear and tear.”

Keith added: “I have a great team and they work very hard. I liken the maintenance here to painting the Firth of Forth Bridge. By the time you've finished sorting it out you've got to start again.

“It's an ongoing project and we have already identified some of the things that will need maintenance on in next year's summer holidays.”



Is your school well maintained? Write to Your Letters at Evening Star, 30, Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN or email

Northgate High School is situated on a 33-acre site. The school evolved from the 1977 merger of Northgate Girls' and Boys' Grammar Schools.

WILL Ludkin , 19, was a student at Northgate and took his A-levels last year. With friend Mark Hutton has done a number of jobs on the site including varnishing benches.

He said: “I joined the general caretaking staff. I'm going to university later this year so it is a way of getting some money together. I have been here most days during the holidays.”

IT manager Sean Vincent and his team work in the school's technical support department.

He said: “this year we have upgraded a number of the schools systems, the email server, and installed interactive whiteboards. It has been very busy during the summer.

“We use the time to check all the computers and check everything is working. We still have to do some memory upgrading.”

Custodian Peter Heard lives on site, in a flat above the school's administration block.

He said: “I can see the whole site from the flat but we don't get a lot of trouble here. During the summer the team can work together much more. Normally we split our shifts so I enjoy the company.”

Gardener Mark Draper started as the school's gardener in April this year.

He said: “There is about half and acre of gardens on the site so it is an all year round job. During the summer there is pruning to do. I have also found a number of shrubs that have succumbed to the heat and will need replacing.”

STAFF at fire-ravaged school Copleston High School just a few miles away from Northgate, are busy preparing for the arrival of temporary classrooms, to replace those destroyed in an arson attack on August 27.

Headteacher Laurie Robinson said: “We lost two laboratories on the first floor and a PE classroom on the ground floor. We have taken another classroom out of commission to store equipment and objects that were salvaged.”

Copleston's director of corporate services Kate Lacey, was appointed just four months ago.

She said the school had spent about £100,000 on improvements and redecoration during the summer, including the creation of three new offices which were lost in the fire.

She added: “We have revamped the changing rooms in the gymnasium, upgraded a CDT area and upgraded seven laboratories which fortunately weren't in the fire.

“We have had electricians, builders, painters and decorators, furniture removal staff, carpet layers, deliveries, gas installation contractors and other contractors on site throughout the summer.

“It has been a very busy site.”