How I lobbied parliament for £18.4m to build new school

When the roof of his school collapsed just days after a condition survey carried out by the Department for Education concluded the building was in A1 condition, High Tunstall College of Science Headteacher Mark Tilling headed to Parliament to lobby for a new school. Mark shares the process of how he managed to secure £18m of funding to make his vision a reality and expresses the importance of great facilities for teaching and learning.

In 2014, when the College received the A1 rating from the Department for Education we were devastated. The facilities were definitely not up to standard and we didn’t believe anyone would listen to a school just complaining about an old building. When the roof blew off just a few days later, we were firstly grateful no one was hurt but secondly determined to do something to get the College the new building it so deserved.

We had tried to secure funding through the conditioning funding the local authority provides but it was never going to be enough. In 2010 when Building Schools for the Future was cancelled, we lost the new school building and facilities planned at that time. That was devastating. High Tunstall has been an important part of Hartlepool for 47 years, but the building was old and tired. The facilities and the resources for our young people were nowhere near up to the standard they should have been. 

We approached the then Member of Parliament for Hartlepool, Iain Wright and Dean Jackson, the former assistant Director of Education for Hartlepool Borough Council for assistance. Iain was successful in helping us to secure a meeting with Minister of State for Schools at the time, David Laws, and his assistants. Iain also talked us through the processes of Parliament and helped us to understand the timescales we had. Overall, he made us feel comfortable in a very unfamiliar situation.

In December of that year the meeting was unfortunately cancelled due to some parliamentary business that Mr Laws had but we were lucky enough to have it rescheduled for the January. We had a 30-minute meeting with David Laws and his special advisers where we were allowed to present our case and evidence, which consisted of a number of photographs and surveys proving the building was not fit for purpose. The surveys we had, and the photographs were quite compelling and were a key factor in helping us to move our case forward.

Mr Laws was very thoughtful and asked us many pertinent questions about the College and its buildings. He checked information with his special advisers and understood our concerns. He was very appreciative and helpful but didn’t promise us anything. He explained the Priority School Building Programme to us and explained the condition surveys that were being carried out. 

It wasn’t until six months later we were successful in being placed on the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). In that time, we just had to wait and get on with the business of trying to maintain the building the best we could. We looked at the short, medium and long-term issues we had and ensured we had plans in place for what we needed to do to make the environment the best we could, ensuring safety was at the heart of what we did.

We were initially allocated £17.1m from the programme but when the local authorities increased the number of pupils at the College from 240 to a 270 intake, we were allocated an additional £1.3m from the Local Authorities Basic Need Funding. Contracts were then put together and the design for the school began in 2016 with key contractor BAM and the Department for Education (DfE) working together.

The DfE PSBP North East project team was absolutely superb throughout the whole project. They worked hard with BAM and the College to ensure best value was achieved and the PSBP schedule was adhered to and were very clear they wanted to build the best school building they could. They really helped us to understand the process and at all times resolved issues that arose and made sure we kept to our deadlines.

This hard work has now resulted in High Tunstall having facilities to be proud of.

On Thursday November 7th of this year we opened our doors to the students. It was one of the proudest moments of my career. I am so incredibly in awe of the building we have now. It has given us a new lease of life. We extended the October half term by three days and in that time, staff worked tirelessly to get everything transferred from the old school to the new. The buzz was unbelievable. No one could wait for the students to walk through the door.

When we opened the doors for business for the very first time it was incredible. We did stagger start times so we could allow for the children to have a look around and get to grips with their new classrooms. There was a red carpet for the students and the local media turned up to cover the grand opening. Every teacher had their own ribbon cutting ceremony to welcome in their form classes to their new home. The new three-storey building includes new science rooms and a demonstration laboratory, creative design rooms, design technology, food technology classrooms and a food demonstration room.

The College has also benefited from a brand-new learning resource centre where students can learn independently. The four-court sports hall features solid wood sprung flooring and the ground floor features a theatre and dance studio as well as a large open plan cafeteria, which is the heart of the College. Classrooms in the new school contain interactive technology to ensure we’re at the forefront of learning. A long way away from where we were back in 2014.

My advice to any other Heads would be that schools have to continue to press for what they want and need. By presenting our case we were very well positioned, but you must use the democratic processes. In terms of getting a quality building they have to dedicate the time and expertise in the school to get best value. Relationships are key in processes like this and the team built from BAM, the Department for Education and the College worked very well together.

We’ve always been proud of the High Tunstall name and now we have a facility that is befitting the name, befitting the College and makes students feel proud. Also, teachers come into work to a nice environment.

With their well-being being looked after, they’re going to teach better and everyone is going to achieve better in the long run.”

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