Faulty Oldham Catholic school site causing pupils “stress and strain”, head teacher says

Pupils at a school plagued by leaks and heating failures are being “put under stress and strain” by the building’s faults, the head teacher has said.

Newman Catholic College in Chadderton, Oldham, has been beset by maintenance issues since the £32m building opened in 2012 under a private financing deal.

Head teacher Glyn Potts said the problems regularly interrupted lessons.

A spokesman for Equans, the firm in charge of maintenance, said issues were dealt with “quickly and appropriately”.

The “safe operation” of the school was at the “forefront of everything we do”, he added.

Maintenance of the school is sub-contracted to Equans by Oldham BSF Limited, a company which owns the site and whose majority shareholder is the Amber Infrastructure Group.

Pupils returned to the secondary school on Monday to find the heating and hot water system had broken, meaning mock exams had to be postponed to keep students out of the “freezing” main hall, Mr Potts said.

He has urged Oldham Council to pressure Amber Infrastructure Group to repair the site.

The local authority said it was doing “everything in its power to help”.

A spokesperson for Amber Infrastructure, which manages the company which owns the college, said when there were “issues with the school building” the firm worked “collaboratively with the college and the council to fix them”.

Mr Potts said there had been “consistent problems” at the school since 2013, which regularly take whole classrooms out of action.

“All of this just adds additional stress and strain on students at a time when they really should be focused on their learning,” he said.

“We serve a community that is incredibly disadvantaged, we have the highest number of educational health and care plans, and the highest number of looked-after children.

“We are Oldham in a nutshell, and it really is making a negative difference to their education.”

Private finance initiative (PFI) contracts were first introduced under John Major’s Conservative government.

Under such deals, private consortiums build facilities such as schools, hospitals and roads, in return for regular payments to cover construction and maintenance over as many as 30 years.

But the scale of profits made by PFI operators, and the build quality of some sites, have faced widespread criticism.

Oldham Council entered into a public-private partnership to build the college in 2010, with a contractor owned by construction firm Balfour Beatty, which later sold the site to Amber Infrastructure Group.

Mr Potts said the PFI contract was “so complex” it made it “almost impossible” for the council to arrange repairs, adding: “We’re not even in the contract, we have to rely on council to force the building owners to do more remedial work.”

Though some repairs had been made, none had brought about a “lasting solution” to problems which were becoming more frequent, he added.

Oldham Councillor Mohon Ali, said the authority was doing everything it could to help with the building and “put pressure on where we can”.

“Students there should of course expect to have a safe and suitable building to use and the current situation is not acceptable,” he added.

Mr Potts said lots of schools built under PFI deals were facing the same problems and he felt councils did not have the funding to go up against “really large corporations with significant financial backing”.

The spokesperson for Amber Infrastructure said it worked closely with the “council, school and the facilities manager to ensure Newman College’s facilities are maintained for the benefit of the local community”.

“When there are issues with the school building or the quality of the services the Council pays for the school to receive, we work collaboratively with the College and the Council to fix them,” they added.