Whitehaven Academy closes after asbestos disturbance

Whitehaven Academy, the troubled Cumbrian school at the centre of a row over the state of its buildings, is closed today after asbestos was disturbed on its site.

The Bright Tribe Trust, which runs the school, said this morning that building materials containing asbestos were discovered “during a routine asbestos survey”, and that “swift and effective remedial action was taken”.

The school is closed today so a survey can be carried out.

“The two areas concerned were immediately contained and reported to the relevant bodies including the Health and Safety Executive,” said a Bright Tribe spokesperson.

“During initial investigations into the matter the decision has been made to close the school on Tuesday to allow further survey works to be undertaken, enabling an accurate assessment of risk and then appropriate guidance can be issued.”

The decision to close the school “has not been made lightly”, the spokesperson said, but is in “the best interests of staff and students”.

“A further update will be issued after the relevant assessments have been concluded and appropriate advice received,” they added.

Last November, Bright Tribe announced plans to give up Whitehaven, following intense pressure from school staff and parents.

The secondary school has been at the centre of a row over the way the trust runs its schools in the north of England, but matters came to a head last autumn when flooding damaged already “dilapidated” buildings on the school site and local MP and education select committee member Trudy Harrison was physically escorted offsite by trust staff when she arrived to check on damage.

Whitehaven is expected to be rebrokered to the Cumbria Education Trust, but its proposed new sponsor has said there are “many issues to review” before its board approves the takeover.

Bright Tribe is also in the process of giving up all but one of its other schools in the north of England.

Last year, a Schools Week investigation found that asbestos had been disturbed at schools in a way that could affect the health of staff and pupils on at least 90 separate occasions in the previous five years. The government has been urged to collect more information about the prevalence of asbestos in schools.