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Pupils face freezing conditions after multiple heating system and maintenance failures

A Greater Manchester school is calling for the council to crack down on its landlords after it faced a full heating failure for the second time within a year.

Pupils at Newman Catholic College, whose building is managed by a private company, were left without heating or hot water when they arrived at school yesterday morning (January 22). 

The heating failure, thought to be caused by a burst pipe on the roof, is the latest in a slew of maintenance issues the school says it has faced since 2012. 

Headteacher Mr Glyn Potts called on Oldham Council to take "more stringent and impactful action" against the building’s owner. 

In a public letter to parents, he wrote: “As you will be all too familiar with, this is not the first time that the building has let us down. It is simply unacceptable that one institution remains plagued by so many failings and that a resolution has not yet been reached. 

“I shall be writing to the council to raise our concerns and imploring them to take more stringent and impactful action toward the building owner, not just for the incident today but for the entire time that the college has been open.” 

The school building is a Private Finance Initiative (PFI), meaning it has control over the management of the building, Mr Potts explained. 

“The only route we have available to raise concerns is to contact Oldham Council who is the lead on our behalf,” he said. “The council will do what they can to bring about leverage to improve the building but it’s just not enough.” 

The heating failure was first discovered at 7am this morning but despite attempts by the building owners to fix the problem, there are still widespread issues across the site.  

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Potts said: “It just makes the whole experience for the children really, really challenging.

“Year 11 in particular is really angry. Because they were due to sit some mock exams today. They were meant to take place in the major halls – which are just arctic. There’s no way I could have asked them to sit a two-hour exam in the freezing cold. 

“It’s pushed us back in terms of our academic planning and preparation. It’s not ideal at all.” 

The school first opened in 2011 after it was built through an arrangement between Oldham council and a PFI contractor owned by Balfour Beatty as part of the national ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme.

But problems have plagued the £32m school building since opening, including regular leaks in the ceiling. 

In December 2023, the school was forced to close due to another heating failure. While Newman College remained open today, staff noted that it caused "frustration" and "concern" among students, who were allowed to keep their coats on during lessons to cope with the cold. 

Mr Potts added: “We need to find a solution to what has been an almost weekly failure in the building since 2012, which is just unacceptable considering that this is financed by public money. 

“The children of Oldham and of Manchester, the future generation, deserve to get a smooth education.”

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