Examination Schools transformed by transfer to FM team

Being able to work with FM professionals within the University has been valuable to me and my team. I am delighted to say we now have a professional FM service which supports the primary function of our building: teaching and examinations. The results have been amazing and far beyond my initial expectation.

Emma Potts, Academic Registrar

The Examination Schools are the main place where Oxford students have their academic progress tested. Around 60,000 exams are sat there every year, and as many as 5,000 students pass through the building in a single day at the busiest times of year.

Beyond this primary purpose the building also hires out space for other events, from lectures to corporate meetings. Before the Estates Services Facilities Management team took over the building, only a few of these external events were happening, and the University felt it was not fulfilling its commercial potential. An earlier study by external consultants had identified that the Schools were underused; this was in part because the building was poorly maintained and cleaned.

The challenges

On taking over in 2010, the FM team identified three priorities:

  • Grow revenue by increasing building usage rates – estimated at less than 30%
  • Improving team management to help staff work more effectively
  • Improving maintenance and ensuring the building complied with health and safety standards

The solutions

Steps like the introduction of regular maintenance and better staff training and support have greatly improved the building’s physical condition and the quality of the service delivered to customers.

New compliance procedures and systems were put in place in the first six months of FM control. For example, there are now regular fire alarm tests and evacuation drills to ensure compliance with fire safety standards.

Numerous refurbishments, including a commercial-standard kitchen, better toilets, redecoration, a new lighting system, new carpets throughout and a restored quadrangle garden mean the building is in far better shape than before.

The standard of cleaning in the Schools was extremely low, with duties split between building staff and an external contractor. After taking over, FM reviewed the external contract and re-established responsibility for cleaning standards within the team. Both arrangements are now performing well, with clear responsibilities and expected standards. Rubbish that had built up over many years was removed from the building – the team filled ten skips with waste and unwanted furniture from the basement in the first few weeks after the handover.

The FM team increased investment in people as well as in the building itself. The Examination Schools were among the first FM-managed buildings to implement the team’s Training Matrix, which specifies the instruction that staff at different grades should receive. This means all staff get regular training to support their professional development, covering topics such as fire safety, risk assessment, working at height and food handling. The introduction of first-aid training even enabled one member of FM staff to save the life of a member of the public who collapsed on the High Street.

A new electronic booking system for both academic and event needs was introduced in 2011. It replaced the previous paper-based booking system, which was struggling to cope with more than 14,000 room bookings a year.

Under the old arrangements, event customers arranged their own catering. This meant the University made no money from the provision of food and had no assurance around standards and hygiene. The FM team now provides compliant, well-received catering services.

Crucially, FM staff’s understanding of the events business and the needs of potential customers in Oxford enabled the production of a tailored marketing plan. 

The outcome

The events business is now thriving. Better marketing of the venue and the greatly increased focus on providing a high-quality, professional service to customers has led to revenue from events increasing from just £120k in 2009/10 to £945k in 2015/16. Average building utilisation rates have climbed from around 30% to an estimated 55%.

The income from this growth has paid for further improvements to the facilities and initiatives to develop staff. This has in turn improved the experience of academic users, the Examination Schools’ primary customers.