Overflowing bins, smelly toilets, graffiti on walls, gum on entrance mats and the smell of dirty mops….
I was being shown around with an embarrassment in the air, opening cleaning cupboards with a sigh and a huge sense of disappointment.
“We don’t have the budget for cleaning”, they said. But, when I dug deeper into this and started researching further, the education sector DOES have the budget and is, in many cases, already paying over the odds.
But what is evident is that schools are routinely not receiving 21st century cleaning, to a point where I am still shocked at most of the standards I’m walking into when doing an initial site visit. Dirty old wooden brushes, domestic cleaning products, dirty non-colour-coded cloths, and you’re lucky if there are more than a couple of them, teamed with 20-year-old plus equipment dumped in the corner.
Enough is enough…
So, here’s my take on why this is happening in Wales.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room:
A huge amount of Welsh schools have cleaning contracts with the local authority. It’s clear that there is a stark leadership gap at the cleaning level, with 20-30% of staff off on full sick pay.
Unfortunately, this leniency seems to have been taken advantage of. Many local authority cleaners are entitled to 6 months’ full sick pay and then 6 months’ half sick pay, with over 22% in pension contributions.
Lack of quality leadership in addressing people management has cascading effects, leading to a shortage of resources that subsequently impacts cleaning standards. Chaos ensues as staff are running around covering sickness with dirty brushes and colouring the floor in with dirty mops.
The cleaning cupboard:
It’s one of the first places I will look. It’s like seeing someone’s office. What are they using to clean with and how are they cleaning?
Unfortunately, I’ve never opened a cupboard and been excited by what I’ve seen. It’s usually like stepping back in time.
Let’s talk about green pine disinfectant… If I had a pound for every green pine disinfectant I’ve seen or cleaners I’ve seen bringing in their own domestic products, well, I can smell it straight away. I’m sure this product was being used when I was in school 20 years ago. Nothing has evolved in the cleaning cupboards. Still the same old buffing machines, old vacumns and non-colour-coded cloths.
It’s not about being pretty… colour-coded cloths are vitally important for avoiding cross contamination – desks not being cleaned with the same cloth as the toilet and so on….
An aging workforce and declining applicants:
With declining numbers of applicants for positions and sometimes no applications at all within school cleaning, schools are often relying on agency workers who are mostly showing up when they see fit, or often not at all. This then has a detrimental impact on the cleanliness of the schools and the cycle keeps repeating.
There is also an aging workforce problem that we need to address. People are being offered 39-42 weeks per year of pay and early morning shifts, before any buses are sometimes even running, hardly making it easy for employees.
So, what’s the solution and how do we make a real positive change within our education sector?
Ultimately, they don’t always know it, but head teachers and governors have the choice to move away from the council cleaning provider to a company like ours.
Let’s carry out daytime cleaning more:
We need a varied approach to daytime cleaning, which can be achieved with the right calibre, training and battery-powered kit, allowing us to be more flexible around the pupils and teaching staff.
We must make these changes if we are going to get our schools cleaned properly. At present, we are cutting out the mum/dad and grandparent market by offering un-sociable shift patterns with no flexible working opportunities.
The sickness issue:
The severity of the sickness problem reaches a point where it becomes unmanageable without extra coverage for the sick hours. This, in turn, perpetuates the cycle of inadequate cleaning in schools.
The importance of seeing your cleaning teams:
Ideally, a substantial portion of your team, particularly during daytime hours, should be visible and engaged. This direct interaction creates a stronger sense of cohesion and ensures a more responsive and effective cleaning approach.
Why bother I hear you say, there must be easier sectors to tackle?
Right, but I do love a challenge… It’s all about revolutionising education: one clean school at a time….
We have already made great headway so far, cleaning many of the top schools in South Wales.
As Ryan from Brynteg Comprehensive School says:
“You’re selling so much more than cleaning Rachael”
We are on a mission to clean up one school at a time, BUT, I need your help.
If you are a head teacher or sit on the board of governors, please spread the word that education providers CAN terminate their council contracts and use outside cleaning specialists like ourselves.
A school usually signs up to a 12-month SLA each year, where they pay the council to run their cleaning service. A comprehensive, school depending on size, can pay anything between £120-£400K per annum, colleges are usually in the millions.
I’ve spent a significant time in the sector and I finally feel that education providers are realising that they CAN make the decision to change to an outside cleaning provider.
I’ve always been told: ‘gosh, you’re passionate about cleaning’, and do you know what? I really am. I’m passionate about helping businesses transform and I truly believe that the environment is what needs to be right.
Over 2023 we visited many schools. Last year was all about putting in the groundwork for the education sector. How do they work? What’s important to them and what challenges we can help them solve? I asked them questions and listened to what they were facing. I now know the answer, and the answer is us.
I don’t hide the fact that we are on the way to a dedicated division here at Mrs Bucket, BUT it’s much more than that. It’s about bringing the business and education sector together, working in partnership with local communities and giving back through entrepreneurial programmes and young enterprise schemes.
We are dedicated to revolutionising education—one clean school at a time. I invite you to join us on this mission. Help us spread awareness, share our message, and let’s work together to create a cleaner and more conducive learning environment for students across Wales. Together, we can make a difference.