Cleaning in schools - a matter of wellbeing

25th of September 2019
Cleaning in schools - a matter of wellbeing

Cleaning of schools has been in the news recently in the UK, as budgets are cut and newspaper reports suggest cleaning is being carried out by teaching staff in some cases. ECJ meets Chan Mehta, founder of The Cleaning Company, which has many schools cleaning contracts. She explains why having professional cleaning staff within the school environment is so vital.

The cleaning of schools has been the focus of a number of negative stories in the UK press over recent months. Headlines such as ‘Poor hygiene causes primary school pupils to shun the toilets’, ‘Dirty schools pose a health risk’ and ‘Budget cuts force school heads to clean toilets’ have alarmed parents, teachers and cleaning professionals alike.

If this is true - if there really is such a lack of knowledge and awareness around the importance of a clean and healthy school environment - it’s time for cleaning sector professionals to  speak out. That’s according to Chan Mehta, founder of The Cleaning Company. Her contract cleaning business serves many schools in the area where it operates in the south of England.

“Lack of investment in a proper cleaning regime – carried out by motivated, trained staff - leads to under-performance on so many levels,” she believes. And there are so many negative issues around teachers taking responsibility for cleaning duties, she says. “They are not trained, they are demotivated by having to do the cleaning at all and last but not least, the school has a duty of care to its staff and pupils.

If staff carrying out cleaning duties are not trained properly in infection control, for example, there could be serious consequences.”

Cleaning is also a massive contributor to safety in schools, Mehta emphasises. All Cleaning Company staff are trained in ‘safeguarding’ for example. ‘Safeguarding’ is defined as: protecting children from maltreatment;  preventing impairment of children’s health or development; ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

“Our cleaning staff are often around the school buildings when pupils are present and they are trained to spot when something is not quite right with a child, or a child may even approach them to share a concern they have. That is an invaluable support role.”

Any cleaning operatives working specifically in schools must be fit for employment in that environment, insists Mehta. “The actual building is just part of that story,” she continues. “The focus is on the end user, the client, and the pupils of the school. And it’s just not an option for the job not to be done properly in my view.”

What are the particular characteristics of schools when it comes to cleaning them? “Flexibility is vital,” replies Mehta. “The governors are looking for much more than clean premises. We may have to deal with an accident, over-running meetings, etc.

Communication vital

“And today’s schools no longer operate simply within traditional school hours. They are often community hubs, hosting after-school clubs and other evening activities. There is much scope for infection control requirement, and containment is essential.”

She continues: “One of the most important elements in our business is communication - letting our clients know what is going on and what we’re doing at all times. We also have meticulous monitoring – if we have a two-hour shift, for example, how can we make most productive use of that time? And we have a very detailed schedule of tasks.

“We know budgets are tight so we try not to waste time, with cleaners walking long distance for instance. And certain tasks do not need to be done every day – all contracts are tailored according to the nature of the buildings and the number of pupils.”

Mental and physical wellbeing

Mehta is highly concerned by recent reports about children avoiding using the toilets at school because the facilities are so inadequate. “Washrooms are a high priority for us,” she insists, “and we always make sure soap and toilet tissue is available for pupils.” This is fundamental when considering the duty of care each school has to its pupils. “It’s about their mental and physical wellbeing.”

Within the schools environment, cleaning and hygiene is not simply a tick-box - and Mehta understands that budgets are often a challenging issue. “All of our contracts are bespoke according to services required and budget available,” she explains. “We have to be realistic and offer the best service with the budget we have.

"Sometimes we do have to strip back and alter the service provision but we are always honest about what we can offer. Often, budgets are quite low but we can give the maximum service for that budget. - with the overall objective to improve standards. We may suggest our clients buy their own cleaning supplies and consumables, for example, and that will save them some money.”

The expertise of a well-trained cleaning operative in carrying out their day-to-day role also cannot be underestimated. “Cleaners know why they do what they do,” says Mehta. “We go into a lot of detail with cleaning around risk areas, and we prioritise those high-risk areas. The consequences of not cleaning properly are very serious and it must be carried out by skilled professionals - depth of knowledge around infection control is vital too.”

Why has the situation in UK schools become so worrying? Is the value of professional cleaning not understood? Mehta thinks not. “Schools do definitely see the value of cleaning but they often just don’t have the budget. If a cleaning contractor can go in and advise them, make some positive suggestions, that could make a significant impact.”

Her concluding advice is: “Start with the pain points and make the absolute best of the resources you do have. Be methodical and organised and focus on the needs of those end users.”

Woodford Green Preparatory School is an independent co-ed school for children aged between three and 11 years and has been one of The Cleaning Company’s clients since 2017.

ECJ spoke to Paul Neagle, its bursar and company secretary. “As an independent fee-paying school, we have to offer our parent body a clear value-added proposition in terms of educational quality, pastoral care and extra-curricular opportunities that state schools are finding it increasingly difficult to provide in the current financial climate, and this is likely to get harder rather than easier in the next few years,” he explains.

Highest standards

“Teachers and administrative staff in all schools are under pressure to ensure that high standards are maintained in all these areas, and it would not be in the school’s interest to  divert them from their primary responsibilities onto other tasks such as cleaning services.”

Neagle continues: “A professional cleaning company is much better placed to maintain both a high service quality and compliance with regulations such as COSSH rather than relying on other staff whose core skills are better employed elsewhere. They are also better placed to ensure that quality standards are maintained including staff training, and that there is full compliance with regulations relating to health and safety and to employment.”

How important is it to him to ensure a clean environment is maintained? “Above all, parents need to feel their children are being cared for in a safe, secure and hygienic environment,” Neagle replies “and very high standards of maintenance and cleanliness are therefore a vital part of our health and safety culture.

“We are educating, caring for and feeding pupils from the age of three upwards, who are naturally inquisitive and not yet worldly-wise, and we are acutely aware of the health risks to young children that can arise from an unhygienic environment in terms of illnesses, which can be easily transmitted, and absences from school. It is also important for our staff to feel that the school is taking their welfare and wellbeing seriously.”

www.the-cleaning-company.com

 

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