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Letting school premises: guidance
What should schools consider when letting their premises? We relay guidance on what to think about when planning to hire out school premises or facilities, including considerations around conditions of hire, safeguarding, security, and insurance.
- Who decides whether to let school premises?
- Consider seeking specialist advice
- Decide which organisations are suitable
- Letting premises for 'charitable purposes'
- Decide who will manage lettings
- Agree conditions of hire
- Health and safety requirements
- Security arrangements
- Providing adequate supervision
- Evidence of insurance and licensing
Who decides whether to let school premises?
Maintained school governing boards control the occupation and use of premises during and outside school hours, and are generally responsible for deciding how school facilities are used.
Academy trusts are also responsible for the day-to-day running of the school land and buildings.
Governing boards control the occupation and use of premises ...
Page 104 of the Governance Handbook says that schools can provide facilities for "extended and community services", such as after-school clubs, out-of-school childcare, and sport and youth clubs. This can enable schools to make the most of their facilities, which may otherwise be out of use before and after school or during holidays.
Academies should consult their articles of association and funding agreements for further details on sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community.
Consider seeking specialist advice
Peter Foale, one of The Key's associate education experts, recommended that schools seek specialist legal and property advice in the case of any proposal for a private or voluntary sector provider to operate from school facilities.
This is particularly important for academies, trust schools and schools built under a private finance initiative (PFI), since their legal status and contractual obligations could make the situation very complex.
PFI schools should check the core hours and extended hours they have a right to, and also how core and extended hours are defined in the contract with their PFI provider.
Decide which organisations are suitable
Making money from your premises
64% of school leaders surveyed by The Key are planning how to make critical savings over the 2017-18 financial year.
In our 2017 State of Education survey, we found that letting school buildings and facilities is one of the most popular ways for schools to generate additional income.
How much extra money could your school make?
Another of our associate education experts, Martin Owen, advised only letting the premises to 'bona fide' organisations such as community groups and clubs. He said that he would not recommend letting the premises for private parties, and would be cautious about letting to political organisations.
In terms of religious organisations, he said that where the school has a religious affiliation, there should not be a problem with it letting the premises to organisations of the same affiliation.
However, where a school does not have a religious affiliation, letting the school to a religious organisation could be seen as promoting that particular faith or group. If the activity would be open to all in the community, this would be less of a problem.
He emphasised that schools need to consider what they think are appropriate organisations and activities when letting the premises.
Write a lettings policy
Martin recommended that schools have a lettings policy that clearly sets out what the school will let the premises out for, and to what kind of organisation. The policy can be used as a basis for making decisions on who and what is suitable.
Martin advised that a policy is more useful than carrying out vetting checks on organisations. If a school feels it necessary to carry out checks, this might suggest it is not an appropriate organisation for the school to let its premises to.
The policy should cover:
- Areas the school will let out
- Any areas that are not available
- A charging schedule
- Rules for those letting the premises
- Consequences of not following the rules
It may also cover any specific activities that the school does not wish to be associated with by letting its premises.
Letting premises for 'charitable purposes'
The governing board of a maintained school may provide facilities or services that will further any "charitable purpose" for the benefit of pupils, pupils' families or people who live and work in the local community.
'Charitable purposes' may cover activities and services such as:
- Childcare (including before and after school and during the holidays)
- Adult and family learning
- Health and social services
- Parenting support
- Other facilities of benefit to the local community, such as access to ICT or sports facilities
This information can be found on page 107 of the Governance Handbook, linked to in section 1 of this article.
Page 108 adds that a maintained school's governing board must consult with the local authority (LA), school staff and parents of its registered pupils before providing facilities or services that further a charitable purpose. The governing board:
... can also consult some or all of the registered pupils, where the board considers this appropriate in view of their age and understanding and where the exercise of the power would affect those pupils, and anyone else that the board considers appropriate.
Since all academy trusts are charities, their charitable objects are set out in their articles of association, together with the powers that the academy trust can exercise in pursuit of these objects.
Decide who will manage lettings
Micon Metcalfe, director of business and finance at Dunraven School, advised schools to think carefully about who will manage their lettings, as this can be a complicated and time-consuming task.
The task often falls to school business managers (SBMs), but this may not always be practical. If the SBM has the time to devote to this project, or is particularly keen to take on a new challenge, then managing lettings may be a suitable responsibility.
Alternatively, SBMs could consider delegating this task to another member of their finance team, or outsourcing the process entirely. Using a lettings company could be a more effective solution, and can often lead to increased profits as lettings is their specific area of expertise.
Countering reluctance from staff members
Micon said that some staff may be reluctant to allow their classroom or facilities to be let. They may have concerns for the safety or organisation of their classroom or facilities, and may not like the idea of a stranger in their space.
The financial benefits of lettings should be emphasised
She said that the person responsible for managing the letting should discuss the hire plans with any affected staff. They could explain how the facility will be used and assure staff that the hirer will be responsible, aware of health and safety considerations, and fully insured.
The financial benefits of lettings should be emphasised, with a focus on how this extra revenue will directly benefit staff and pupils.
Agree conditions of hire
Southwark Council has published guidance on lettings for its schools, which says on page 2 that the school will need to agree on conditions of hire.
The conditions of hire could include information such as:
- Insurance the hirers will need
- Fire regulations for the school, including assembly points
- An emergency name and contact number for the school
Page 7 adds that the conditions of hire should be signed by the hirers and a copy returned to the school before the start of the hire period.
A representative from the DfE's safeguarding team told us that where a third party hires the school premises outside school hours, the responsibility for ensuring that safeguarding measures are in place rests with the third party provider rather than the school.
If a safeguarding incident were to occur, the responsibility would fall on the third-party provider rather than the school.
Setting safeguarding expectations
One of our associate education experts, Sue Rogers, said that a school could outline safeguarding expectations in its lettings policy. The school could then send the policy to third parties, who will have to agree with the safeguarding standards they contain.
Schools should also discuss any safeguarding concerns that arise with the organisations hiring the premises. These organisations may well find it useful to have issues highlighted to them which they might not otherwise have been aware of.
Sue added that a school's reputation could be affected by a safeguarding incident taking place while its premises were let to a third party. Therefore it is important to work with the hirers to make sure that safeguarding standards are high, and to minimise any potential risk.
It is the responsibility of any third party provider, as the employer, to carry out DBS and other checks on its staff, a DfE representative confirmed. The school would not be able to carry out checks on staff it does not employ.
It is up to the school to decide how best to assure itself that checks have been carried out
An ASCL representative confirmed that it would be the third party's responsibility to carry out checks. However, if the school believes there would be the possibility of unaccompanied staff coming into contact with pupils at the school, the school would be justified in checking with the third party that it had carried out the relevant checks on staff.
She added that it is up to the school to decide how best to assure itself that checks have been carried out.
The school could, for example, ask to see DBS check certificates for relevant staff, or simply ask the third party for written confirmation that checks have been carried out.
The Prevent duty
The DfE representative explained that the Prevent duty would not automatically extend to those hiring school premises.
She said that it is up to the school to set conditions for premises hire, and that schools can include stipulations relating to the Prevent duty in conditions for hire if they wish.
Health and safety requirements
Guidance from Redbridge Council includes a section on health and safety considerations for its schools when letting their premises.
Page 3 notes that under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the employer is responsible for the health and safety of individuals on the premises.
It sets out specific health and safety guidance for its schools, such as:
- Ensure that the hirer is competent to use any equipment provided by the school, and that all equipment is in a safe condition
- Advise the hirer of any known hazards in advance, and request that the hirer notify the school of any hazards during the letting
- Provide the hirer with details of emergency procedures, for example the fire evacuation procedure
- Ensure a telephone is available for emergency calls
- After the letting, check that the premises have been left in a safe condition
The guidance from Southwark Council, linked to above, says on page 4 that the school needs to agree on arrangements for opening and closing the premises for hirers.
It says it is likely that the school's insurance policy will require a responsible member of school staff to supervise the letting and take responsibility for security.
Guidance from Northamptonshire County Council advises its schools to ensure that any organisation using the facilities is made aware of the access, evacuation and emergency arrangements.
Pages 11-12 suggest that for one-off hires, schools may wish to assign a member of site staff to attend and monitor the event. This member of staff should have ‘thorough knowledge of the school’s emergency planning’.
The document contains an application to hire form on page 15. It asks hirers to confirm that they have received and read the school’s statement of emergency procedures.
Jonathan Block, one of our associate education experts, said that a school should have a policy and procedures in place that cover security both within and outside normal school hours. These would normally cover, for example:
- Access to the site
- Individuals who hold keys to the buildings
- Emergency evacuation procedures
- Alarm systems
- Security features in the building design, such as secure entry systems
- A designated member of staff responsible for overseeing the use of the site out of hours
When hiring out the premises, the school should ensure that the hirer is aware of its procedures and has agreed to follow them. The school should also ensure that the hirer knows how to contact the school’s designated person if there is an issue.
Jonathan stressed that a school cannot set out a security procedure for every possible scenario. He said that if a school's general policy and procedures on security are thorough, they should be sufficient for out of hours lettings as well.
A school concerned that its overarching procedures are not adequate for out of hours lettings should carry out a risk assessment. The school can then use this assessment to inform a review of its procedures.
He said that the appropriate procedures for specific emergencies will be different for each school, as they will depend on the school’s site layout, local context and other factors.
He suggested inviting a police officer or crime prevention officer to help the school evaluate its security procedures and identify how they could be improved.
Another article from The Key links to examples of security policies from schools.
Providing adequate supervision
The guidance from Redbridge Council, linked to above, includes terms and conditions for hirers on pages 7-8.
It explains that the hirer is responsible for ensuring that adequate supervision is in place.
A section on the supervision of children says that at an event where the majority of attendants are children and the number of children exceeds 100, the hirer must:
- Ensure that a sufficient number of adults are stationed to prevent more people being admitted
- Control the movement of children and other people
- Take all other reasonable precautions for the safety of the children
Evidence of insurance and licensing
The guidance from Southwark Council, linked to earlier in this article, says on page 4 that the school should ask for evidence that hirers have their own public liability insurance cover.
Alternatively, the school may be able to arrange for hirers to be covered under the school's own insurance policy.
The school should ask for evidence that hirers have their own public liability insurance cover
The guidance also explains that under the Licensing Act 2003, licences for alcohol, music, performance of dance, plays and late night refreshment are not required where an event is not open to the public.
However, at events where tickets or alcohol are sold, the hirer will be required to obtain a temporary event notice from the LA.
Peter Foale is an experienced education consultant working with local authorities, schools and their communities, and the private sector on management and strategic planning.
Martin Owen is a qualified Chartered Accountant (CPFA). He has more than 20 years' experience working with academies and schools to improve their governance, leadership and management of financial, business and operational processes.
Sue Rogers is an education consultant. She has been the headteacher of three schools, worked as an adviser to local authorities, and taught in the primary and secondary phases. She is also a former inspector.
Jonathan Block has extensive experience of school leadership as an interim headteacher and education consultant.
This article was updated in response to a question from the school business manager of a large all-through school in the north west.
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