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Ian Jackson explains what it takes for the quality of a school's facilities to win recognition from the Continuous Advancement Programme

Posted by Dave Higgitt | April 02, 2015 | Facilities management

Academic achievements and extracurricular activities may dominate parents’ thinking when choosing a private school, but the condition of the facilities is rarely far behind. The cleanliness of rooms, and the physical state of the buildings, creates a powerful first impression on any prospective parent or pupil.

The CAP (Continuous Advancement Programme) Awards help headteachers achieve excellence in housekeeping and also catering, so that the pupils receive the best experience during their time at the school and the facility is also well placed to attract future students. Over the years some of UK’s leading independent schools have won an award in recognition of their housekeeping and/or catering teams.

Recent winners include Roedean Girls’ School, Harrogate Ladies’ College, Stafford Grammar School, Bishop’s Stortford College, Oakham School and Hollygirt School. All of these schools would agree that winning either a bronze, silver or gold CAP Award has differentiated them from the competition, allowed them clearly to demonstrate the quality of their pastoral care in terms of cleaning and food, and crucially evidenced the quality of service being experienced by the pupils.

So what makes a winner? Top of the list is always attention to detail. Excellent housekeeping requires meticulous focus on a multitude of daily tasks to ensure that a high standard is always maintained.

Second, the awards recognise evidence of good practices. In the kitchens this would mean safe food practices in operation such as HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) and training on mandatory and daily tasks. Cleaning procedures should have set daily, weekly and annual time slots: for instance, there should always be daily room cleans of soft furnishings and a plan in place for effective mattresses and pillow management in boarding schools.

The financial health and viability of the housekeeping department is an important award criterion. The feedback at this stage can also provide invaluable insight to improve budgetary management, helping to ensure that schools are getting great value for money from their materials and staffing against industry benchmarks.

Awards inspectors want to see astute financial practices at work from controlling waste food in kitchen production, at service and on plate returns to the strict stock control of cleaning materials and disposable products, e.g. bin bags. All inspections are unannounced and in term time.

Beyond having the best procedures and systems in place, winning schools demonstrate high performance based on actual real-life delivery. So how clean is the school on the day of the inspection, what do the pupils think of the food on offer that day, is it the right temperature, taste and nutritional balance?

Naturally, inspectors are also looking to see compliance to legal guidelines and industry benchmarks, although this is very much the bare minimum expected from winning schools.

Headteachers have said that members of the housekeeping and catering teams take great pride in winning an award and the recognition they receive is wonderful for staff motivation and retention.

The achievement of the award is very much the start of the journey of continual improvement in the housekeeping and catering functions. CAP’s support to these departments aids progression and compliance. Last year, for example, CAP schools were immediately up to speed on the new allergen guidelines issued by government and the legal implications of these new rules.

Being a CAP award-winning school is a mark of quality and an indication to parents and pupils that a headteacher puts as much emphasis on the perhaps less high-profile elements of the schooling experience, which are nonetheless vital to the happiness of pupils.

Ian Jackson is managing director, CAP Awards

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