1. Calls for immediate publication of the DfE review into asbestos in schools
Time is running out for the Government to publish its review of asbestos policy for schools with the dissolution of Parliament less than three weeks away. The publication of the report has been delayed on numerous occasions and is now long overdue. It is increasingly apparent that the Government are attempting to suppress the report as they do not want asbestos in schools to be an election issue. Party political expediency and the risk of controversy appear to be overriding the safety of children and staff in schools.
Whether the report will actually acknowledge the seriousness of the asbestos problem in schools, and then implement the radical policy changes that are required, is a different matter. However, by not publishing the report, the Government are repeating the unethical practice of suppressing or manipulating evidence about the risks to children and staff from asbestos in schools. This has happened on a number of occasions, so that over the years the facts have been kept from the public. Consequently successive Governments have been able to deny there is a problem and have not been compelled to take the actions that they would have otherwise.
It is understood that the Schools Minister, David Laws MP, is working hard to have the review published. He has answered a series of Parliamentary questions all of which have indicated that it will be published before the General Election. But now the party political priorities of other Ministers appear to be preventing publication.
It is important for the safety of children and staff in schools that this report is published before the dissolution, so that it can be discussed in Parliament and any proposals can be implemented. If it is delayed beyond 30th March then, no doubt, those who do not wish it to be published now will ensure that it is not published in the future.
There is little time left for the press and public opinion to persuade the Government that the report must be published before the dissolution of Parliament.
The following are some of the calls for the report to be published immediately:
The NASUWT has today written to the Secretary of State Nicky Morgan calling for the DfE Review into asbestos in schools, conducted over a year ago, to be published immediately. Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary said: "It is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the continuing delay in the publication is driven by political considerations taking priority over the health and welfare of children and young people and the education workforce.”
The Joint Union Asbestos Committee said “.... Government assurances that the long-delayed findings of its schools asbestos review would be published early in 2015 now appear meaningless. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) seriously questions the Government’s intentions to publish before the pre-election ‘purdah’ period begins on 30 March... During the 9 month period since the Review should have been published, in June 2014, inevitably some staff and children will have been needlessly exposed to asbestos fibres, putting them at risk of the development of asbestos-related disease in adult life.”
The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat said: “......For the last fifty years successive Governments have suppressed the ever increasing evidence that teachers, support staff and children are being exposed to asbestos at school and dying. The policy review is the opportunity to make our schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. This opportunity must not be squandered”
Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the NUT said “School staff and parents will rightly feel betrayed by this cynical attempt to prevent the problem of asbestos in schools becoming an issue during the election campaign. As the call for evidence closed a year ago, the Government has had more than enough time to consider its response and set out the steps it will take to address the barriers to safe and effective management of asbestos in schools... We call upon the Government to bring this issue into the open, admit there’s a problem and use the findings of the Review to work with the NUT, and other teacher and support staff unions, to make our schools as safe as they can be.”
The NUT has written to the Secretary of State for Education and stated “I can see no good reason why the Review findings cannot be published immediately.”
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said"There is a real possibility that this report will not be published before the dissolution of Parliament in three week's time because the government believes the problem of asbestos in schools is simply too big to tackle. This is unacceptable given the severity of the risks posed to children and staff working in schools. ...The report must be published immediately."
2. No audit - so DfE do not know how many schools contain asbestos
An audit has never been undertaken to determine the extent, type and condition of asbestos in UK schools. In England the Government even took the decision to specifically exclude asbestos from their two year audit of the condition of school buildings which was completed in February 2015. However in 2008 the Department for Education made a rough estimate that around 70% of schools contain asbestos, and they based their estimate on the age of the building and the floor area. Since then DfE have acknowledged that more than 75% contain asbestos. That gives a misleading impression as a list has been collated by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted by individuals and the media to local authorities from 2009 to 2014. The actual percentage is significantly greater at 86%.
Note: If local authorities have removed asbestos from their schools, it would be greatly appreciated if they could provide an update on the number of their schools that contain asbestos now.
3. BBC News 9th March. Interview with a former pupil dying of mesothelioma.
“Asbestos was widely used in the building industry in the 1960s and 70s but it was banned in the UK in 1999, after a link was established to a number of different lung diseases. Figures seen by the BBC suggest asbestos is still present in nearly nine out of ten schools in the UK - higher than previous official estimates. It can be managed safely if it is left undisturbed but there have been calls for urgent action to make schools safer, as Tim Muffett reports.”
Comment: Chris Wallace gave a very moving and brave interview to the BBC. He told the reporter how he was exposed to asbestos as a child at school. He is just thirty seven years old, with a wife and two children, and yet his life will be cut tragically short as he is dying of mesothelioma.
He is one of the many thousands of staff and former pupils who have been exposed to asbestos at school and will subsequently die. Evidence was given to the Education Select Committee that between 200 and 300 people will die each year from their asbestos exposure as a child at school. Over a twenty year period that amounts to between 4,000 to 6,000 people who will die from the simple act of attending school.
See the latest mesothelioma death statistics that show the increasing death toll amongst school teachers. School cleaners, cooks, teaching assistants, caretakers, secretaries and former pupils are also dying of mesothelioma.
4. A Teacher and school kitchen worker died of an industrial disease, mesothelioma.
We are saddened to hear of the deaths from mesothelioma of Laura Armitage and Jean Weston.
“Post mortems carried out on Jean Weston, 86, and 84-year-old Laura Armitage revealed both were suffering from fatal mesothelioma, both had only worked in Barnsley schools.
Mrs Weston had been a teacher at Darfield Foulstone school for almost 40 years, only leaving when she retired in the late 1980s.
Mrs Armitage worked in the kitchens at the old Whinmoor School in Barugh Green from 1975 to 1988.... Inquests concluded both had died due to industrial disease.”
Comment: If a coroner concludes that asbestos exposure at work caused a person’s mesothelioma then they will give a verdict of ‘Death from industrial disease.’
Michael Lees MBE 10th March 2015
Michael Lees: firstname.lastname@example.org
mob: 0791 0947362