As I sit here in a school office with a lukewarm cup of coffee waiting for the final contractor to finish their job for the day, I began to think back to how I got myself here. The journey, the ups, the many downs and the blind leaps of faith along the way.
I'm 25. I manage half a dozen primary school sites, I am the named H&S rep for each school, a keyholder for each school and often, the first person to be called when an issue arises. It wasn't always that way, and I certainly never planned for this to be my career path.
At 16, I left school and mooched around for a summer before my mum moved me from Oxford to Somerset. From there I decided to pursue a Media qualification at college before becoming bored with the slow pace of the course and wanting to do something more hands on. Don't get me wrong though, I would LOVE to work in media in some sense one day. Anyway, I decided an apprenticeship was the way to go as my part time job as a gardener at a local B&B was not going to pay the bills once I needed to spread my wings. Rural Somerset offered little in terms of apprenticeships at the time.. No idea why, but it was scarce at the time.
I landed upon an apprenticeship for a Caretaker in a large secondary in a nearby town. I didn't think I would get it, nor did I think working in a school would be for me. However, I did get it, I did enjoy it, and I learned an awful lot.. There were highs, I worked alongside the resident Caretaker who had done the job for over 30 years, learning all the old-school tricks that could possibly be learned whilst laughing all day long in a 2 year span. I also learned a lot from the other caretaker who was an ex tradesman and equally old-school but not in quite the same way.
As an apprentice it is your job to learn as much as you can and I learned by asking questions such as; Why? What about? How come? etc. These sometimes were taken the wrong way by this person and as such, I was sometimes relegated to being a tea boy, and even sent home early so that I was no longer around to ask questions. No big deal now, but it was hard to take at the time.
During the apprenticeship, the longer serving Caretaker and I would stereotypically slope off to the welfare office and have a cuppa. Toward the end of my time at the secondary school I had grown to be liked by many of the staff as I was standing on my own two feet and doing things independently and efficiently. This earned favour with the P.E department who got me an unhealthy amount of beer, the kitchen baked me a cake, the welfare officer, though? Well.. She got me a job.
From Apprentice Caretaker to Site Manager
I was talking in the welfare office about who finances meant that the school would rather take on another apprentice than take me on as a Caretaker. I understood and had no hard feelings, but I now had to find a job in which I would be able to put what I learned into practice, no mean feat when we all know school site staff jobs are far and few between!
The lady who worked in that office spoke about her husband who had been working at one primary school and then asked to cover another one who couldn't find the right person to work as their Site Manager. Her husband was of retirement age and the goodwill had been used up and thus he wanted to drop back to doing just "his" school. She asked if I would be interested to which I said yes! The kicker was that the school was only offering part time hours of around 4/5 hours a day. I had a decision to make but I would do that after I had viewed the place.
My First School
I went and viewed the school, a lovely little village school that was about to undergo a huge expansion. I liked what I saw and I loved what I experienced from the staff. Warmth, smiles, genuine excitement to see a potential new Site Manager to call theirs.
I decided to apply and give it a good go, even though it was part time. When interviewed, I was asked why I had applied to a part time position at 20 years of age, I did not lie. I said I will stay as long as I can until a full time role appeared elsewhere. 5 years on and that school is still under my remit amongst the others. A blind leap of faith by the LGB and the Head meant they were able to offer me extra hours covering the lunch break and beyond making my hours full time after a few months.
Another blind leap of faith...
Time went by and I was kept exceptionally busy with new builds, extensions, shelters and demolitions, until another school needed my help. My hours were now split 60/40, 3 days to 2. This school was undergoing some serious change and was closely aligned with my current site, with lots of staff crossover, all of a sudden I found myself where the Welfare officers husband was.. This time I was making it work, I was full time and proving to be good at what I do. Again, 2 years on and I am still at that site.
Yet another blind leap of faith...
The second school began working with a third school in the MAT to help with its improvement journey from RI to Good. Premises and H&S were on the list of things that needed attention and so I was drafted in. My days were now spread across 3 schools, I began to really come into my own and own this role by helping all of my Headteachers and School Business Managers / Office Managers out by lumping the whole Premises package.. Literally ALL of it onto my shoulders so that they were able to divert their attention to where their strengths were, be it Teaching and leadership in the case of the Heads or finance and HR in the case of the office staff. IT was very apparent that I had no peers in my trust at the time and ended up being the only Multi Site Premises Manager around up until recently with some new ones coming on board with backing from the trust. I can't wait to work with them to professionalise the role. I have worked in schools for just under 8 years now and I wouldn't change it for the world. The grass has always been greener where it has been watered!
I have gained an additional two schools to help them on the Premises side of things. I love my role, though I would like to see Site Staff recognised for what they are; the hidden, tea & coffee sipping diamonds in the rough that keep you safe, they keep your children safe, secure, warm and happy to come to a bright, clean and exciting place to learn. Getting Site Staff recognised for what they are. That is now my goal for as long as I am in this game.
That Site Manager