Using the latest technology and training methods are just some of the considerations schools should bear in mind when choosing a cleaning contractor, advises Lee Baker from the British Cleaning Council.
Clean schools are successful schools, but the current economic turbulence has put enormous pressure on budgets, and the challenge is now to maintain high standards whilst at the same time reducing costs.
Nobody could disagree that schools can only function properly if they are clean and hygienic, and the cleaning industry, from product manufacturers to cleaning contractors, has been relentless in its efforts to make sure they are cleaned to the highest standards possible.
The new economic realities mean cleaning firms tendering for schools contracts have to prove they can deliver not just high standards, but also that they can work safely, sustainably and, most importantly, within budget.
It’s a big challenge for a cleaning firm tendering in the education sector. The field is extremely competitive, but those who strive for quality without cutting corners will be the most successful. The advancements made by the cleaning industry in technology and staff training also offer ways of getting a competitive advantage if used correctly.
Less toxic cleaning
Many education authorities now insist on less toxic, eco-friendly cleaning products. The reasons for this are clear. Not only do they produce better outcomes than tradition products, they have improved the indoor air quality considerably, which has led to a big drop in absenteeism by teachers and pupils who suffer with asthma and allergies.
Also, the introduction of microfiber cloths and mops has led to vastly improved results, financial savings and a healthier environment. Microfiber cloths clean, dust and polish without using chemicals, making less toxic cleaning infinitely easier. For tougher areas only small amounts of non‑toxic chemicals and water is ever needed, and so cleaning staff don’t have to lug heavy buckets of water about the building, making the whole process more efficient.
Similarly scrubber/drier machines have also become more eco-friendly over the years, meaning rooms can be cleaned and dried more quickly, and so the actual service delivery is more efficient and sustainable than it has ever been.
Innovations in school design
Using technological advancements can help save money, but they also have an important safety role. Innovations in the design of school buildings can help the cleaning process and inventions like hands‑free toilet flushes, soap dispensers, taps and dryers have all gone some way to reducing the spread of germs and viruses.
In fact, the cleaning industry now works closely with the HSE, which in turn advises architects and building firms on the most appropriate materials to use in buildings to help maintain its cleanliness. This works especially well in schools that are being renovated, where significant changes in the flooring can be made to make them safer and easier to clean.
The issue of efficiency savings is increasingly important when a cleaning contract is up for renewal or tender. Schools generally do not want to see their cleaning service diminished in any way, so cleaning contractors who can demonstrate a method for staying within budget, whilst keeping standards high, will be in a better position to win the contract.
This is done by making changes in the service level agreement and showing the client how those savings can be made without any significant loss to the overall service. The contractors will offer a bespoke programme for the school, establishing and agreeing key performance indicators.
Savings are achieved essentially by working smarter; assigning different areas of the school with different priorities. So, for instance, hallway carpets that may in the past have been vacuumed every day could now be cleaned every other day. The same too with windows and staff offices. But heavy usage and sensitive areas, like toilets, changing rooms, and the busiest classrooms, remain high priority and are cleaned daily. Toilets are usually maintained throughout the school day.
A bespoke service level agreement means the contractor can assign the correct resources for the task at hand. This is arrived at by measuring a number of factors such as the floor space, the types of surfaces, the various high and low priority areas, the storage space available to safely house the various chemicals and mop heads, and the building’s after-hours usage.
Once this is worked out to the finest detail, the contractor will know how many staff the building needs to be cleaned to the agreed specifications. No two schools in the UK are the same. Premises will range from the newly built state of the art academies, right through to buildings that were conceived before the second world war. Pupil sizes vary dramatically as well, and so every school has to be carefully considered on a case‑by‑case basis so the contractor can offer a competitive tender that delivers the standard of cleanliness and hygiene the school needs.
The building occupants
The most obvious difference in cleaning a school as opposed to any other business premises is of course its occupants. Young people are highly mobile, and energetic. Their day involves moving between classrooms quickly in large groups and, perhaps understandably, they have many more things on their young minds than the cleanliness of the building.
It’s a factor that has to be taken into consideration when devising a cleaning plan for a school. Pupils’ safety is paramount, but so too is the teachers’, school visitors’, and, not least of all, the cleaning staff’s.
Every aspect of developing a service package for a school is based around reducing hazard. That is everything from the non-toxic cleaning chemicals that are now used, through to hazards like wet floors and electric cables being left unattended. Contractors will leave no stone unturned when it comes to risk assessment.
Another area the cleaning industry can take great credit for is the drive for high standards of education and training. The industry has come a long way from its ‘mop and bucket’ image, and in the business world the modernisation of the cleaning industry is well understood. Most big clients such as airports, hospitals, shopping centres, office complexes and so on, now want cleaning staff to be trained in health and safety and chemical competence at the very least, with many now requiring BICSc training and even advanced qualifications.
Keeping public buildings clean is a hugely important job, and that is even more so in our schools. Viruses and germs can spread amongst school children like wild fire, and so cleaning operatives have to be trained to make sure they’re using the right products for the surfaces they’re cleaning, and have the right level of safety training.
But staff training has big cost benefits too. Trained staff can get around the building quicker, they know which chemicals to use, and will understand the dangers of cross contamination and safe equipment storage. Studies have found that training also gives staff a stake in the operation and this can lead to better productivity and less absenteeism. These are cost savings a savvy cleaning firm can pass onto the client.
Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in a school, whilst working sustainably, efficiently and mitigating against the many potential hazards is a difficult, and never ending job. To do this against a backdrop of decreasing budgets and higher client expectations can be even more challenging. But those contractors that can work smartly, using the latest innovations and training methods, will rise to the challenge, and deliver cleaner, safer buildings for our children to be educated in.