School Cleaning – Whos Responsibility Is It?

New Zealand’s literacy rates are falling. The NZ Herald reports that in December 2021, 13-year-olds recorded their worst-ever score in Maths and Science. Ironically, there does not seem to be any clear or scientific reason. Dr. Nina Hood, NPO Education Hub organiser, postulates that a decline in reading for pleasure over the last ten years- as children spend more time on digital devices, may play an important role.

The news site RNZ has also reported that the Education Review Office has noted low school attendance. Some sources attribute this to illness, mental health, and bullying. While there is also some debate about the role of drinking water on Kiwi children’s health, the Ministry of Health has developed regulations to ensure that Aotearoa’s drinking water is safe.

In a study on the effects of classroom cleaning on student health, Nature Journal notes that schools globally have found ways to keep their schools open, their learners healthy, and also prevent the spread of viruses- in schools and the broader communities. The study found that enhanced cleaning resulted in a significantly lower level of biocontamination on desktops and that there was a direct correlation between ATP levels on classroom desks and the probability of absence due to gastrointestinal illness.

CleaningNZ focuses on cleaners and we believe it’s important to look at how education cleaning plays a role in keeping school-going children at school, and safe.

Problems Cleaning A Classroom

Understanding that the end result is that children are at risk- not only of falling ill but also of falling behind because of illness-induced absence, the problems that arise deserve attention. These include:

  • Employment relations issues:

These can be minor personality clashes between cleaners and supervisors or more serious issues that need disciplinary action.

  • Unhappy cleaners:

In any job, an unhappy cleaner can sabotage the operations. It’s sometimes difficult to put a finger on it, but communications are key and must be addressed when they crop up.

  • Hygiene standards:

If clear protocols are not in place, cleaning becomes less effective. Not only do things like a lack of equipment play a role (imagine cleaning with a dirty old cloth), but the personal hygiene of the cleaner must also be considered. If they are ill, they should not be spreading their germs as they go about their duties in school.

  • Training:

Well-trained cleaners understand the specialised cleaning needs of a school. This goes deeper than just mopping the floor. Classrooms and sports facilities have particular requirements as do general areas. The number of people that move through a school in a day- whether it’s teachers, learners, or visitors, means that the cleaning scheduling can be challenging and protocols need to take into account diverse needs.

  • Cleaning crew management:

If the right cleaners are employed, they are familiar with scheduling and the demands of school cleaning, but the crew must still be tightly managed to ensure that the outcomes meet specifications and objectives.

School Cleaner Duties and Responsibilities

Most schools are large buildings with many areas to be cleaned. Aside from vacuuming, polishing, or mopping floor, there are school cleaning jobs with specific cleaning tasks:

  • Spot cleaning spillages
  • Collecting lost property and handing it to the designated person
  • Cleaning desks, boards, and classroom equipment
  • Science lab cleaning which may involve hazardous materials
  • Diligently reporting any defects or hazards immediately to the caretaker or supervisor
  • General cleaning

Part of the commercial cleaning sector, education cleaning has skilled cleaners but there are often new entrants. Training is important and site induction helps to orientate cleaners in the interests of a squeaky-clean school environment.

What Are The Duties Of A School Cleaning Supervisor?

Managing building cleaners effectively is an art, and many cleaning supervisors have worked themselves up the ranks to the supervision level. While a thorough understanding of the processes stands them in good stead, equally important are managerial and people skills.

Cleaning supervisors also need to know the applicable laws, especially on Health and Safety. In addition, efficient management of the cleaning equipment and supplies should be part of their skill set, and they should be willing to use their initiative from time to time. Unique cleaning challenges arise especially when children are involved, and these need to be solved quickly and effectively.

The cleaning supervisor is the go-to between the cleaner and the site manager or operations manager. They need to figure out ways of maintaining high standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

Where does a School Caretaker Fit Into Cleaning Operations

School caretakers may also be cleaners or cleaning supervisors, depending on the size of the school. According to the Ministry of Education:

  • A grade 1 caretaker is responsible for the safety and good order of the school grounds and buildings. This may include supervising or actually doing the cleaning.
  • A grade 2 caretaker has the same job specification as a grade 1 worker, but may also do maintenance ordinarily done by a registered or qualified tradesperson.
  • An assistant caretaker helps a grade 1 or 2 caretaker.

Caretakers are usually accountable to School Operations Managers (or Business Managers). If they don’t do the cleaning themselves, caretakers should have some form of training in both managing staff, and cleaning methods and equipment.

Role Of School Operations Manager In Cleaning

The Operations Manager can also be part of the job of the School Business Manager. The person usually answers to the Education Board and is responsible for operational processes, purchasing, accounting, human resources, inventory, and IT. They may also perform the function of a Property Manager and the Ministry of Education defines how state schools should be managed.

The Operations Manager employs the cleaning supervisor or caretaker, and will also make the decision on whether commercial cleaning services should be engaged, and which company will be appointed. While bearing the ultimate responsibility for cleaning, they are seldom involved in the day-to-day operations, unless there are serious problems or a crisis occurs.

Keeping children in school is crucial to improving literacy rates. Although these are currently 99%, good education makes a positive difference to the futures of 100% of children. Effective communication between the role players and attention to the vast amount of details that make up a school cleaning schedule reduces absenteeism due to illness. At CleaningNZ we are guilty of spending a lot of time on Facebook curating school cleaning jobs, but we would like to see our kids spending less time there…


School Cleaning – Whose Responsibility Is It?

  • Poor cleaning can lead to school children becoming ill and being absent from school. This is a factor in lower literacy rates in New Zealand.
  • There are various levels of responsibility for school cleaning:
    • The cleaners,
    • The cleaning supervisor or caretaker,
    • The operations manager or business manager.
  • Schools and classrooms have specific cleaning needs.
  • All role players must work together in the interests of a clean and hygienic school environment.