Asbestos ‘significant cause for concern’ in over 100 schools

Nearly one in five schools are failing to manage asbestos properly – with the government having to intervene in more than 100 schools found to be a “significant cause for concern”.

The government’s first comprehensive survey of asbestos in school buildings, published today, found 83.1 per cent of those that responded (5,592) contained the life-threatening fibrous material.

Nearly one in five were not fully compliant with asbestos requirements – lacking either fully document management plans, asbestos procedures, or were unaware asbestos was present.

But 114 of those schools (2 per cent) were discovered to be a “significant cause for concern” and required government intervention.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it emailed those schools and received “reassurances” the asbestos is now safe.

But Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, said: “Given this was a voluntary process with only 25 per cent of schools responding, it is reasonable to assume that schools who know they are not compliant would be less likely to respond.

“Therefore the true number who are failing to comply could be substantially higher, with hundreds of schools putting pupils and teachers at risk by failing to manage asbestos effectively.”

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The report follows a warning from the National Audit Office this week that “asbestos is a significant, and potentially dangerous, issue in many buildings, including most schools”.

The NAO report also noted that “the department does not collate information on the number of school buildings affected”.

Previous guidance on asbestos management, published by the DfE in 2015, has also now been updated, reminding schools of the legal responsibilities of “duty holders” such as trusts, governors and local authorities, as well as of headteachers.

The report stated children are more at risk of lung cancers and mesothelioma than adults “due to their increased life expectancy compared to adults and the long latency period for the disease to develop”.

Keates added: “Asbestos is lethal. The only safe asbestos is removed asbestos. The DfE must bring forward proposals for the phased removal of all asbestos in schools without delay.”

The DfE collected data on asbestos from school from January and closed to March 2016.

The 114 schools found to be a “serious concern” were found to lack a “proper, professionally reviewed management plan” for dealing with asbestos.

schools who know they are not compliant would be less likely to respond

These schools have now reportedly given the DfE “assurances” that the asbestos is now being “managed effectively”.

The report also found that just more than half of all schools had made staff aware of the risk of exposure to asbestos (55.5 per cent), while even fewer caretakers (44.1 per cent) and facilities managers (25.9 per cent) had been made aware.

Only 43.8 per cent of headteachers had also been told.

The report says that if asbestos in a school building is in good condition and is “unlikely to be damaged or disturbed, then it is usually safer to leave it in place and regularly monitor its condition.”

But the DfE has also released updated non-statutory advice that states the duty holder has a “legal responsibility for the safe management of asbestos.”

It also includes that all staff should be told of the location of asbestos and make sure they don’t disturb it “by working being pinned to the wall”.

Parents may do not need to be informed of asbestos, added the report, since health and safety legislation “does not require schools to inform parents about the presence of asbestos in their children’s school.”


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  1. Asbestos is not only a killer but its existence within the fabric of any building is a costly management risk that can decimate a budget, especially if it has to be removed as opposed to encapsulated or worked around.
    Given the age of the school stock and the high likelihood of carrying out repairs, refurbishments and extensions it is surely going to become an ongoing issue.

    Local Authorities’ record of adequate asbestos surveys and the subsequent compilation of a hazards register for their school stock, is not exactly industry award winning. The outcome has meant that when converting, the school transferred the risk and its associated costs with them.

    In 2011-14 the government conducted their Property Data Survey Programme as they had begun to appreciate that as (Future) responsible landlords, they really ought to get a grip on the condition of their stock. However, the scope and depth of this UK wide survey across 22,000 schools was so superficial that it did not include on its checklist, basic items such as structural condition or even the presence of asbestos.

    Was this deliberate? Was it in the best interest of either the LA or the government to bring to the attention of possible suitors the extent of the physical and financial risk they would be taking upon transfer to an academy?

    Buyer beware. During the due diligence process how many schools were advised as to hazards registers and asbestos management plans, let alone condition of roofs, boilers and their distribution systems along with numerous other highly expensive fabric components and the limits to their life span? The average due diligence procedure amounts to collection and compilation of paperwork.

    Government have this year commenced a further stock condition programme, the Condition Data Collection Programme, set to run from now until 2019 as the once again dispatch surveyors to 22,000 schools less that 2 years after the last round. This time they asking the question, as to the existence of asbestos but the survey will not actually analyse its management plans nor cost of management of it.

    Even the National Audit Office felt fit to comment on both of the above survey programmes’ methodological parameters. However, their own figures pertaining to the capital costs of returning the stock to satisfactory standards, are extrapolated from the same meagre data and so will have potentially wide margins of error. The £6.7 billion figure could be considerably greater still.

    At present the LA’s have no means to fund the above works, standalone academies can bid for funds via the annual Condition Improvement Fund lottery for funds to conduct its removal, whilst the MAT’s have to make do and mend with top sliced School Condition Allowance funds.
    Unsurprisingly, schools struggle to fund major capital works let alone squirrel away reserves for the requisite maintenance required to keep an estate in good order so as to reduce reactive spend in favour of planned.

    It appears that the MAT’s who have been created within the free market model are now seeing the value of investing in fit for purpose due diligence exercises and are finding, as a result, many of the risks previously hidden and are thus not adopting the schools that carry such liabilities.

    Who is going to pay the bill for these liabilities? It cannot be the school, the LA have no funds, the MAT’s are not willing to take the risk without sufficient support and or incentives.
    The RSC, EFA and DfE are going to have to develop some sort of equitable plan if we are not going to see unacceptable number of schools become orphans.
    The extent of the investment is likely to be enormous but given the vast sums being made available for and to free and grammar schools perhaps we can expect at least parity