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Child Focused FM

04 January 2011

Winners of the Partners in Education FM Award and Overall Winner in the PFM Awards is a partnership that makes the education of autistic children in a North London school possible day in and day out.

TREEHOUSE IS AN INNOVATIVE charitable trust serving children with autism and their families, based in Muswell Hill, North London. A small on-site team from Freidman FM
works closely with the TreeHouse organisation to maintain a highly innovative and sustainable purpose built facility which opened in 2008. The Pears National Centre for Autism Education, the national TreeHouse autism education charity is also based there. The Trust provides education for children on the autistic spectrum, supports families of children with autism, conducts research, trains teachers of children with autism, briefs decision influencers including Government Ministers and raises awareness of autism in the general public.
The school currently serves 77 children with learning disabilities on the autistic spectrum, between the ages of four and 17, with provision for up to 19 years of age. It has the capacity to grow to a roll of 100. Around 150 teaching and support staff also work in the school, with a further 50 staff from the TreeHouse Trust.
Freidman was awarded the contract in August 2009, after a competitive tender process, and began working on site on 1 August 2009. The Freidman FM team comprises General Services Manager Paul Terry, together with two full-time maintenance and three full-time catering staff.
Freidman is also responsible for a team of one full-time and two part-time receptionists employed by the Trust but managed by Freidman FM. Freidman’s MD, John Ellis, is also
a frequent visitor, stays in regular contact with both the on-site Freidman team and the senior TreeHouse team, and attends monthly KPI meetings.
The high degree of wear and tear at TreeHouse is a continuing challenge, largely due to the unpredictable and sometimes challenging behaviour of the pupils. Some 300 tasks are tackled every month across a relatively small site, but 18 months into its life the building is still looking new and beautiful, thanks to prompt ongoing maintenance work by the Freidman FM team.
Freidman FM provides reception, security including subcontracted patrols, catering, housekeeping, caretaking, planned and reactive maintenance, cleaning, drainage maintenance, grounds maintenance, car park management, waste management and recycling, procurement, H&S including an annual audit and CoSHH reports, water treatment and management including rainwater harvesting, nappy service, telecoms and tannoy systems, playground and equipment maintenance and inspections, fire systems and drills, disaster recovery and business continuity, near miss and accident reporting, and RIDDOR reports. It also maintains bicycles and tricycles for play and tandems for staff and pupils to use together, and maintenance for the innovative HVAC system using ground array system of cooling and heating.
Security is a vital issue – all Freidman staff have an enhanced CRB checks and they escort all trades people called onto site and manage the subcontracted security patrols. Due to the vulnerability of the pupils, it was necessary to have lockable fire exits to keep pupils safe.
Freidman FM conducted the negotiations with the Fire Service to gain approval for the use of fire exits with access control, which prevent vulnerable pupils from leaving the building unsupervised. Additionally the gates separating the front and rear of the building also have to be locked at all times. Freidman FM suggested combination padlocks over key operated ones in order that members of the FM or school staff could quickly open them in an emergency.
Freidman FM provides essential repairs and planned maintenance as well as fast response repairs as the need arises. Reactive and planned maintenance is conducted under strict time constraints. The school operates three terms with relatively short holidays in order to provide maximum routine and security for children for whom change can be difficult or distressing.
Unlike mainstream education, itself challenging enough, a room, facility or item of equipment out of order cannot simply be ‘lived with’ until there is time to fix it. The individual education plan, the peace of mind and the behaviour of a pupil may depend on the item being in service, so having it back in order in the shortest possible time is vital.
“We probably aren’t the best customer,” says Gill Bierschenk, “because we always need things fixed now. But Freidman really understand this and always do their very best to
action things very quickly. You would think that a brand new building meant we had no problems, but that wasn’t the case.”
An example of this is the light fittings which were designed at a specific height to provide space between the cooling concrete ceiling and the light fitting. No-one had anticipated that one of the pupils would decide early on to climb from a table onto the light fitting in order to lay on top of it! Freidman proposed and undertook shortening the brackets to elevate the light fittings out of reach.
Initially the rainwater harvesting drains were problematic. The children tend to ‘post’ a variety of things down the drains, including tree bark from the garden, which could swell and cause problems. Freidman FM works hard to ensure that drains are kept clear. Some children will eat or throw weeds, stones or earth. To eliminate this problem, in agreement with the school, Freidman FM concreted over the slim gap between fence gravel board and playground edge to help ensure a clean safe environment.
Both parties have adopted a partnership approach in a joint pursuit of excellence, and both partners see the team as one whole, each describing it as a family, with no sense of lines of demarcation between provider and client.
Everyone is passionate that this beautiful building should remain so, despite the challenging role that it must fulfil. Freidman FM proposed the introduction of monthly KPIs, so that TreeHouse could score it on every area of provision. “We regularly assess services and give them a clear score,” says TreeHouse Trust's finance director, Martin Atkinson. “Apart from this monthly meeting, I need give very little thought to FM. I delegate it to Freidman and know it will happen.”
Freidman FM has also introduced a monthly breakfast meeting, which it hosts for all TreeHouse and Friedman staff to provide a forum for comment, complaints, feedback, and dissemination of key information. Two plasma screens, one on each floor, have been installed by Freidman to convey information to staff, pupils, visitors and the Freidman team.
Information includes notifications of fire drills, reminders of special events, updates on work and visitors to the building and any news that needs to be conveyed to all internal audiences.
The decision to outsource FM was unusual for an independent school, but made perfect sense to TreeHouse, as Martin Atkinson explains, “As a single site we were aware that we needed more expertise and greater resources than a conventional caretaking team alone would provide. In the realms of H&S alone which is a driving consideration for us, we need to be sure we are keeping up to date, complying with, and in many areas, exceeding the requirements.”
Freidman FM doesn’t just liaise with TreeHouse staff but with parents too. “At first it seemed very strange that Freidman would manage our front of house reception staff, but it works really well,” says Gill Bierschenk. “The reception team are extremely efficient as well as sensitive and empathetic. Parenting a child with autism can be highly emotive, and they often have to deal with quite distressed parents and carers as well as all the usual routine school and charity matters. They do it with great sympathy, tact and efficiency.”
Incident reporting also falls within Freidman’s remit; and is a far larger task than in mainstream schools. Every conceivably reportable instance from a new scratch or bruise being observed, to an undressing incident, an accident or an injury, no matter how minor, must be reported as an incident. Up to 800 incident reports are made every year. Freidman collates and reports on the data from the incident and accident software which generates a letter to the parent of the child every time an incident is recorded.
When TreeHouse was given short notice of a recent Ofsted inspection, Freidman pulled out all the stops to ensure that everything was in perfect order. The school passed with flying colours; care, guidance and support achieved a grade one; and the FM aspects were deemed outstanding.
Freidman is passionate about its support for TreeHouse. all the team are inducted and trained to understand that this is a very special site.
“Freidman have a fantastic proactive attitude,” says Gill Bierschenk. “They frequently come and suggest things that will make life easier or better. I love that I don’t have to think about some areas, they just take some aspects off my shoulders. They are great problem solvers. On top of all that, they are just such nice people.”
Martin Atkinson concludes, “I can delegate and be absolutely sure that they are taking care of everything we ask them to do. The biggest benefit that I perceive from outsourcing the management of the facility to Freidman is the considerable gain in senior management team time and head space, and the reduction of stress and worry.”
The judges said:“This is one of those rare and delightful partnerships where achieving a singlegoal is more important that who works for whom. The Treehouse Trust’s goal is to help children and young people with autism to learn, thrive and achieve. All concerned in the partnership work hard to achieve this, and do so every day.”
The judges said: “The goal of the Treehouse Trust school is to make the ‘ordinary’ possible for its challenging pupils. However, it takes the extraordinary to achieve this. At every turn, this partnership delivers small and large successes on behalf of the children.”

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