The cost of removing asbestos from all of England’s schools could cost as much as £100 billion, an official has said.
Schools ‘must be rebuilt’
According to Mike Green, director of capital at the Education Funding Agency (EFA), the only way to eradicate the hazardous material is to completely rebuild affected schools.
Addressing the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Mr Green said: “The only way to truly address asbestos is to rebuild the building.
“The cost of rebuilding the estate, roughly £100 billion – 85-ish percent of schools in the survey had asbestos in them.
“The clear advice of the Health and Safety Executive is [to] leave asbestos where it is and manage it, because it is difficult to take out safely.”
Asbestos is a toxic, fibrous material that when broken down can be inhaled, and is known to cause severe lung and respiratory conditions, including mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the tissue lining the lung.
A school survey
The PAC – a cross-party group of MPs – conducted a hearing on the state of school buildings. It asked the Department for Education (DfE) what information the division has on the occurrence of asbestos in schools.
DfE’s most senior civil servant, Jonathan Slater, says a survey of schools had been conducted in 2015, with only a quarter (25%) giving feedback.
According to the analysis of the schools that did respond, 83% said asbestos exists in its school buildings.
Mr Slater says the DfE intends to determine the condition of other schools by conducting a second survey.
The committee heard from heads of a Sunderland school that was relocated last year after being earmarked to be rebuilt in 2012.
Hetton School in Hetton-le-Hole was forced to relocate due to serious disrepair issues, including gas leaks and loose asbestos tiles.
Craig Knowles, Hetton’s acting head, said students’ learning had been disrupted in the dilapidated accommodation and former head, Phil Keay, said the building had to be closed off two or three times because of the disrepair issues.
Mr Keay says pupils had to be sent to a “defumigation van, an emergency van, to make sure that they were de-dusted, and hosed down and cleaned”.
“It really was that serious,” he added. “Obviously parents were informed, emergency services and so on, but it was not a building that was fit to have children in for several years, prior to its closure and us moving to the new building.”
However, Mr Green later said the circumstances surrounding Hetton School make it a “reasonably unique situation” and “the majority of asbestos is within the structure of the building and best left alone”.
But he did concede that in a dangerous situation then asbestos should be dealt with.
Source: Times Educational Supplement
Date Published: March 24, 2017
Author: Jonathan Brown