Asbestos in Schools  
Update 126
1 November 2012

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More than 75% of schools in UK contain asbestos. The activity reported in this newsletter is directly relevant to each of them. To see the direct application in your school watch this
BBC Wales investigative programme

Closure of secondary school because of asbestos

On October 12th Caerphilly Council received a structural report that highlighted the presence of asbestos debris, damaged and unsealed asbestos materials at Cwmcarn High School. Raised fibre levels were also found. The Council closed the school with immediate effect. (1)

937 pupils were sent home and in early November all staff and pupils will transfer to another school until “they can return to a safe environment.” The move will cost £1.4million, but the disruption and anxiety this has caused is unquantifiable. A specialist contractor has advised the council to consider demolishing the school.

An excellent BBC Wales report examines the incident and the wider problem of asbestos in 85% of schools in Wales. It asks the Welsh Government what measures they intend taking to ensure that staff and pupils are safe in schools.

Caerphilly Council published a series of questions and answers on the incident. An analysis of their answers is at this link. The original Questions and Answers are at this link

On 16th October  the Education Minister in the National Assembly of Wales, Leighton Andrews “demanded monitoring reports for every local authority in Wales on the status of asbestos in their schools by 26th October. The Welsh Government said it was now evaluating the findings.” On the same day the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly of Wales called for a national audit of the extent of asbestos in school.

The problems of asbestos in schools in England are as great as they are in Wales, but in contrast in the Westminster Parliament the Schools Minister has stated that an asbestos audit of schools in England is unnecessary.

A review of the UK Government exclusion of asbestos from the audit of school buildings is at this link.

This incident and the responses are relevant to every County and school that contains asbestos in the UK and demonstrates that a review of asbestos policy for the whole of the UK is urgently required.

Committee on Carcinogenicity assessment of the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos

For more than a year the Government’s Advisory Committee on Carcinogenicity has been examining the relative vulnerability of children. They will publish their report after their final meeting on 22nd November. The report will have profound implications for Government policies on asbestos in schools.

Review of Government policy of asbestos in schools

At the February 2012 Parliamentary debate on asbestos in schools the Minister stated that “We will review our policy on asbestos management and our advice to schools when we receive the committee’s report later this year.” (2)

It is essential that government policy on asbestos in schools is reviewed as there is extensive and increasing evidence that the present policies are outdated and do not give adequate protection for the occupants of schools. They are a short term expedient and do not provide a long term solution.

At the All Party Parliamentary Group Asbestos committee meeting on 17th October the AiS (the Asbestos in Schools group) proposed that the Education Select Committee should be asked to undertake the review.

Parents Right to Know

A Parents right to Know Campaign has been launched by AiS Wales to give parents in Wales the right to know in which school buildings asbestos is present. The campaign is being backed by Nick Ramsay, Assembly Member for Monmouth and Shadow Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science. He will be chairing a Cross Party Group on asbestos which will examine the feasibility of establishing a central schools asbestos database. In the National Assembly he said "It is very important that we have an update from your Government as soon as possible on how policy is being developed to deal with this unfolding problem of asbestos in our school stock. There are growing concerns among parents. Those fears need to be allayed as soon as possible."

Follow the link to the National Assembly for Wales web site to see and sign a National Assembly for Wales (e petition) "We call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to put measures in place to ensure that parents and guardians of children across Wales can easily access information about the presence and management of asbestos in all school buildings. Given the health risks associated with the presence of asbestos in public buildings, we believe parents and guardians across Wales have the right:

  • to know if asbestos is located in their school
  • to know whether, where asbestos is present, it is being managed in line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

Comment Parents in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are in the same situation and should have the right to know

Department for Education on line guidance

The Department for Education (DfE) has published new online asbestos guidance for schools. It is basic guidance to raise asbestos awareness and it is clear and simple.  The AiS contributed towards the guidance and fully supports it. It should be read by school governors, headteachers, teachers, support staff and parents.

Inspections of schools have frequently identified a lack of asbestos training and awareness. AiS are members of the DFE Asbestos Steering Group and are lobbying for asbestos training to be made compulsory for relevant local authority officials, school governors, headteachers, teachers and support staff.

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References:

1. Caerphilly Council  Report by Corporate Director Education on Cwmcarn High School 23rd October
2. Debate House of Commons Asbestos in Schools - Tuesday 7 February 2012 -(Hansard text) penultimate paragraph.
Also House of Lords Written answer Lord Hill HL15579 16 Feb 2012 : Column WA184

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Authoritative research can be seen at http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/; that is closely referenced with sources, has a search facility so you can find your specific interest and can be quoted. You can also contact us as shown below

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CONTENTS
1. Asbestos closes school - national action
2. Report on childrens' vulnerability to asbestos
3. Review of Government policy on asbestos in schools
4. Parents right to know - petition

5. New guidance booklet from DfE on asbestos in schools.

6. References

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