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Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos in School Group’s response to the Educational Capital Funding consultation

The Asbestos in Schools Group

The following is the Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) response to the consultation on the Educational Capital Funding Review.

There is growing concern about the problem of asbestos in schools and how it is not being adequately addressed. Consequently in the last three years a number of organisations and individuals who hold those concerns have come together to form the AiS.

The group is non-party political. Its expertise covers all aspects of asbestos in schools, and its support is widespread and increasing. Amongst AiS’ members and supporters are MPs, all six of the teaching trade unions, the three school support staff unions, local authorities, the asbestos consultants association (ATaC), the United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association (UKATA), experts on risk, solicitors, doctors, the asbestos victims support forum, the health and safety campaigning organisation Hazards, the Independent Schools Bursars Association (ISBA) and individuals including those who have been harmed by the devastating effects of asbestos exposure in schools.

The group’s overall aim is to make schools safe from the dangers of asbestos
Some members of the AiS are also members of the DfE Asbestos in Schools Steering Group, which aims to improve the asbestos management in schools.
This response will therefore specifically address the issues in relation to asbestos.

Respondent Details
Name: The Asbestos in Schools Group. (AiS)
Annette Brooke MP
House of Commons,
London SW1A 0AA
E-mail: christine.payne@parliament.uk

John McClean,
National Health & Safety Officer
GMB Baldock Office
The Maltings, 44 Whitehorse Street,
Baldock, Herts, SG7 6QQ
 E-mail john.mcclean@gmb.org.uk


The Government has been critical of the large amount of money that was wasted on the BSF and PCP projects. There are now less funds available so proper financial planning is equally, or even more important. Despite that it would appear that lessons have not been learnt and the mistakes of the past will be repeated in the future.

This part of AiS’ response to the James review consultation puts the case that asbestos is central to the Review’s recommendation of setting up a central condition data base, and that a failure to assess asbestos costs undermines sound financial planning.

The James’ review highlighted the unacceptable condition of significant parts of the school estate and they were critical that DfE was unable to allocate targeted or proportionate resources as they had no centrally collated data.  They therefore concluded that “Central Government needs to have a good sense of the condition of the estate in different parts of the country in order to allocate resources in a fair way.”  They recommended that DfE “gathers all local condition data that currently exists, and implements a central condition database to manage this information.” Following the publication of the Review DfE were asked whether the gathering of information would include an audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in the school estate. DfE responded that it would not, they stated:

“Sebastian James recommended a programme of building surveys sufficient to enable better targeting of national funding allocations, but this programme would be relatively light-touch and is not intended to identify the location of ACMs.”

DfE does not need to have a detailed knowledge of the actual location of asbestos material in schools, but it does need to know the extent, type and condition of asbestos in its school estate and the risk it poses to the occupants so that priorities can be set and financial estimates made.  The fact that they do not intend to do this is financially irresponsible as asbestos presents a proven major cost in both maintenance and capital programmes in schools. Failure to assess the asbestos costs means that it will not be possible to target the limited amount of funds available to the schools that are most in need. Also a lack of knowledge of the scale of the asbestos problem in the nation’s schools is likely to lead to large, unexpected cost overruns.

The DfE statement suggests that they do not intend to implement the fundamental changes recommended in the James Review that are needed to properly plan effective financial management and set priorities. It also makes it clear that a decision has already been made to ignore potential major costs before the consultation process is complete. It appears that DfE intend to repeat the mistakes that led to cost overruns that undermined BSF and PCP projects.
A brief summary of the current scale and condition of asbestos in schools is followed in the answer to the questions by an overview of the predictable cost overruns that will be caused by not planning for the considerable maintenance and capital costs caused by asbestos, and how a data bank of asbestos in schools will allow priorities to be set and financial forecasts made

Why asbestos has to be central to financial and policy planning for schools

DfE estimate that more than 75% of schools contain asbestos. This is likely to be an underestimation as in some areas such as the North East, Kent and Greater Manchester almost 90% contain asbestos. All of them contain chrysotile, many contain amosite, and some contain crocidolite. More than 14,000 schools were built between 1945 and 1975, when the use of asbestos was at its height and many other schools were refurbished at the same time. Because of government policy most of it remains in schools to this day.

Many of the schools have reached the end of their design life, with the CEO of PfS acknowledging that 80% of schools are beyond their shelf life. There has been long term under-investment in the school stock, consequently it has not been well maintained so that it has gradually deteriorated. The Education Capital Review concluded that “Significant parts of the school estate were and are in an unacceptable state.” The scale of the problem was underlined by the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Children’s Services who concluded in September 2010 that “fifteen billion capital investment is the absolute minimum councils need between now and 2015 to ensure every child can be taught in a classroom which is safe and structurally sound. Nearly five billion is considered essential for the next financial year, 2011-12.”  Asbestos remediation or removal is a major part of this expenditure.

If a building is dilapidated then invariably so is the asbestos it contains. Asbestos material in poor condition will release asbestos fibres more readily than if it is in good condition. Therefore the condition of asbestos material should be known. All types of asbestos can cause cancer and there is no known threshold dose below which there is no risk. Amosite is up to 100 times more likely to cause mesothelioma than chrysotile, and crocidolite is up to 500 times more likely. Amosite in particular was extensively used in schools with much of it in places vulnerable to disturbance by children. It is therefore necessary to know the type of asbestos in a building. 

Maintenance activity can release high levels of asbestos fibres, but also normal classroom activities can, and although the releases are generally “low level,” in many cases they are frequent and can take place over a prolonged period of time. All exposures, however small, are cumulative and increase the likelihood of mesothelioma developing. A 1997 report commissioned by the Medical Research Council examined the widespread use of asbestos in schools and concluded that “It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that the entire school population has been exposed to asbestos in school buildings.”

The numbers of school teachers dying each year of mesothelioma is increasing, 228 have died since 1980 with 140 dying in the last ten years. Children are more vulnerable to the dangers of asbestos.  The USA estimated that for each teacher’s mesothelioma death nine children would subsequently die.  Proportionately in the UK that would equate to more than 2,000 subsequent deaths of children exposed to asbestos at school. That is a serious problem that the UK government has never properly addressed.

In contrast they have addressed the problem in the USA. Their incidence of mesothelioma has stabilized at 14 per million per annum whereas in the UK the incidence is 36.5 per million per annum and increasing. It is the worst in the world. Thirty years ago the US government carried out an audit of the extent of friable asbestos in schools and assessed the risks to the children, then, because of their particular vulnerability, they introduced stringent asbestos laws specifically for schools. Because they knew the scale of the problem and the risks they were able to allocate proportionate resources so that schools really could manage their asbestos. The DfE should also follow the basic disciplines required to properly plan and allocate resources – as required in the James Review.

The Capital Review expressed concern about the particular vulnerability of children in schools by stating “Clearly, taking into account the potential vulnerability of young people, there needs to be good scrutiny and control over buildings in which they will spend much of their day.” The widespread presence of asbestos in schools presents a considerable risk to both staff and pupils, and children are more vulnerable to the dangers of asbestos. If the risks are to be managed and schools are to be made safe for the occupants then good scrutiny and control of the asbestos they contain is essential. 

Consultation Q1: What data on the condition of the local estate should be used alongside pupil and student numbers data, as the basis of a fair allocation to address need across the range of children's and young people's institutions and facilities?

Answer to Q1:

Data is required on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools.

It is essential that data is collated on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools. This will provide a basis for sound financial planning, it will enable priorities to be set and policy to be made that will make schools safe from the dangers of asbestos.

Not only is assessing the scale of the problem and the risks a basic principle of risk management, it is also a financial imperative. Despite this the UK government has adopted a “light touch” approach to asbestos in schools that has meant that they have never undertaken an audit of the extent of asbestos in the nation’s schools, nor have they carried out a risk assessment. The government therefore does not know the extent of the asbestos problem in the school estate or the risks. Because of this they cannot target resources at the local authorities where the asbestos risks are the greatest and they cannot allocate proportionate resources to the local authorities that have the greatest financial costs due to asbestos. These basic principles of financial planning and risk management are an essential element of the James review.

The reason given by Government for not carrying out an audit or a risk assessment is that they claim it is not their responsibility, but it is instead the responsibility of local authorities and school governors. Although local authorities, school governors and headteachers have been given the responsibility for asbestos many are not aware of the dangers of asbestos and the priorities that should be placed on managing it safely. Consequently when funds have been made available they have been allocated to what they consider are more immediate priorities.

Schools have gradually deteriorated so that by the mid 1990s the nation’s school stock was in a poor condition and needed a large injection of funds to bring it up to an acceptable state. But because of DfE’s “light touch” policy of delegating the responsibilities they had, and still have, no accurate data on the extent of the dilapidation of their property portfolio, no sound assessment of the cost of bringing schools up to a structurally sound and safe condition, and no idea of the potentially large extra costs involved because of extensive asbestos in the school stock. The James report and common sense demand that funds should be properly targeted by DfE, but they do not have the information to do that. The past failure to make financial forecasts based on sound data has led to cost overruns caused by “unpredicted and unexpected” asbestos. This will be repeated if the scale of the asbestos problem is not assessed.

Government policy is that so long as the asbestos is in good condition and not likely to be disturbed then it is better to leave it in place and manage it for the remaining life of the building, than it is removing it. This is not necessarily a cheaper option for it involves constant vigilance and rigorous systems of asbestos management, combined with exceptionally expensive costs of routine maintenance, repair and refurbishment, all of which can be a major and long term expense to a school, diocese or a local authority. In the 1980’s the Association of Metropolitan Authorities concluded that a policy of progressive removal would be the safest and, in the long term, the most cost effective option. However on their demise the policy was dropped, but it remains the policy in Nottinghamshire and some universities.

Many schools have not managed their asbestos safely but, because schools are treated as “low risk” by the HSE, very few inspections have been carried out with the consequence that poor standards of asbestos management in many schools have pass unnoticed. Ineffective asbestos management has led to asbestos material being damaged, the schools contaminated and the occupants exposed. The disruption and anxiety are unquantifiable, but the financial costs have also been substantial with carpets, furnishings, computers and pupils’ work being destroyed at great expense. For example the aftermath of an asbestos incident in a small primary school cost £750,000, and the uncontrolled removal of AIB ceiling tiles from a secondary school resulted in a £6million bill.

Because asbestos incidents in schools are often caused by a failure to follow guidance or comply with the law, headteachers and local authorities have been taken to court with substantial fines and costs being awarded against them. In the case of the primary school the fine and legal expenses amounted to £70,000, and fines and costs of £100,000 were levied in the case of the secondary school. The recent case of asbestos contamination in an M&S store resulted in a £1million fine, which is perhaps a sign of the increasing severity that the courts will treat a failure to manage asbestos safely.  These are just some of the hidden costs of leaving asbestos in place which are not, but should be, included in any financial planning. 

There are also long term costs, one of which is raised insurance premiums, but in a number of cases local authorities are self insured and therefore the cost is directly theirs. The other long term cost is that school staff and former pupils have developed asbestos related disease. That presents a cost to the individual and to the national health service, but there are also increasing numbers of civil claims being filed which have resulted in substantial legal expenses and settlements for damages being awarded against the schools and local authorities. For instance the family of a former pupil who died of mesothelioma was awarded £240,000 and a former teacher £180,000. These major expenditures are caused by the presence of asbestos in schools and are liable to grow in the future as the deaths increase and awareness grows. Insurance companies have actuaries who forecast the potential costs. In contrast DfE has made no long term evaluation of these potential costs although the information is essential for proper financial forward planning. DfE cannot make these forecasts as they have failed to determine the scale of asbestos in their school estate and the risks to the occupants.

Even basic maintenance is impeded by the presence of asbestos so that just cleaning a light fitting or painting a ceiling needs special precautions that result in extra costs. Laying a computer cable, repairing a leaking roof or replacing a window frame could require an in-depth asbestos survey and specialist contractors to remove or make safe any asbestos material before the work even starts, all of which result in considerable extra expense. The following examples show the major extra expense incurred because of the presence of asbestos. A secondary school in Scotland had become dilapidated as repairs could not be carried out. The repairs would normally have been sustainable and within the budget, but because of the presence of asbestos the work was dangerous and the extra costs made the work unaffordable at an estimated £13million. The cost was too great and the school was closed. Similarly roof repairs could not be carried out in a Victorian primary school in Derby because of asbestos pipe lagging in the loft which was in an unsafe condition. The asbestos, and contaminated ceilings, heating and electrical systems had to be removed at an unexpected and unbudgeted cost of £700,000. Such major expenses are typical where asbestos is present and can, and should be, planned for in local authority, diocese and government financial planning.

System built schools built before 1980 usually contain large amounts of the more dangerous types of asbestos, so the everyday cost of maintaining the buildings is greatly increased. Some local authorities have many system built schools, whereas others have relatively few.  Nottinghamshire for instance has over 800 system buildings, most of which are schools.  There are therefore some local authorities who have substantial extra costs in just maintaining their schools stock purely because of the asbestos. DfE has never collated this information so they are unable to identify and prioritise which local authorities are most in need of funding to carry out basic, but critical, maintenance and major capital projects. That lack of proper financial planning lies at the core of the James Review recommendations for planning of priorities for school capital spending, maintenance and repair.

When schools are refurbished or replaced a major cost is identifying hidden asbestos, making it safe and where necessary removing it. However if the asbestos has not been identified before work begins then considerable costs overruns have occurred when unexpected asbestos material is uncovered. A large construction firm gave written evidence to the Parliamentary select committee which underlined the problem. They stated:
In one project involving a 20 school refurbishment, a non-intrusive survey during the preferred bidder stage showed remedial costs of £1.4 Million. Asbestos removal is common in school refurbishments. It was acknowledged by both parties that there could be more asbestos and Jarvis’s liability was capped. Much larger amounts of asbestos were found subsequently leading to delays and cost over-runs which could not be obviously explained to parents without causing alarm or embarrassment to the client.” 

In another example the costs of remedial work when previously unidentified asbestos was found during a school’s refurbishment, was £4million, and in a primary school £300,000 was allocated to remove asbestos lagging from heating pipes in under floor ducts and to replace the damaged contaminated materials.  Even when the schools are demolished and replaced substantial cost overruns and delays have occurred because previously unidentified asbestos has been discovered. In order to accurately cost major building projects and keep them within budget it is essential that the asbestos is identified and accurate estimates are made of the cost of asbestos remediation or removal.  It is a basic financial discipline that individual schools, local authorities, dioceses and DfE should plan and make financial forecasts of the increased maintenance and capital costs due to asbestos.

Despite asbestos potentially presenting one of the largest costs in refurbishment or maintenance, the Department for Education is still unaware of the extent of asbestos in the nation’s schools, and their “light touch” policy will mean that they remain unaware. They embarked on the £45billion BSF and PCP projects without knowing the condition of the school estate or the extent of asbestos, That was financially irresponsible and led to budget forecasts being exceeded. If the same mistakes are not to be repeated then it is essential that there is centrally collated data on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in the school estate.  

  • It is recommended that DfE collate information on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in its school estate so that sound financial estimates can be produced, priorities set and policy made.

Consultation Q2:  Access to, and quality of, condition data can be variable. Do you have robust and complete data available, or have you proposals on how it can be gathered and managed most effectively, but at the same time with minimal cost? Please outline.

Answer to Q2:

Each school, local authority and diocese should already hold the data on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in their schools. Asbestos guidance and regulations specify, or indicate best practice, on what data should be obtained and held by duty holders on the asbestos in their buildings. Therefore all schools should have the data readily available, and the data on individual schools should have been collated by the local authorities and dioceses so that they have a full picture of the asbestos in their property portfolio.

It is agreed that the quality of the data can be variable and that if it is to form the basis of financial forecasts and future policy it has to be of good quality, accurate and complete.  At present this is not necessarily the case as some schools have only had cursory asbestos surveys or they only commission surveys before building work is carried out. As a consequence they are not aware of the full extent, type and condition of asbestos in their buildings or the risks they pose. This unacceptable situation was the outcome of the consultation for the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations when DfE argued strongly and successfully against mandatory asbestos surveys for schools. This was because of the cost of surveys, removal and reinstatement rather than on grounds of safety. This DfE policy was based on short term financial expediency, but has inevitably led, and will lead, to far greater costs in the long run. The effect is that those schools who have not carried out comprehensive surveys cannot effectively or safely manage their asbestos, and it also means that schools, local authorities and dioceses cannot make sound financial forecasts of the cost of maintenance, refurbishment or asbestos remediation or removal. If the school estate is to be brought up to acceptable and safe standards, all schools have to have a comprehensive asbestos survey. They would then have a sound basis to effectively manage their asbestos. The data held by the local authorities, dioceses and by DfE would then provide a sound basis for financial forecasts and future policy.

  • It is recommended that all schools carry out comprehensive and thorough asbestos surveys to identify the extent, type and condition of asbestos in their buildings.

HSE guidance for asbestos surveys lays out what is required by law and it gives examples of best practice. As the guidance should be followed by all surveyors, each building should have the same basic information on the extent of asbestos, its type, condition and the risks it presents. A system should also be in place so that the condition of the asbestos, the surveys and the recorded data is updated on a regular basis. The basic data on asbestos in each building is therefore generally available. The data from each school is also usually collated centrally by local authorities in a format that they can see which schools are in most need so that priorities can be set and financial estimates made. Much of the data is therefore presently available and could readily be provided by each local authority to DfE.

Although some dioceses may be able to achieve the required standards others have an unacceptable lack of knowledge of what asbestos is in their school buildings. This was confirmed by the DfE/HSE questionnaire about the management of asbestos in system built schools where there was an endemic lack of knowledge amongst the dioceses. It has also been confirmed by the latest round of HSE inspections which uncovered serious flaws in asbestos awareness and management that resulted in enforcement action in a number of faith schools. These schools have been unable to safely manage their asbestos, and without a good knowledge of what asbestos is in their property portfolio the dioceses still are unable to safely manage their asbestos. That is clearly unacceptable on safety grounds, but it also means that the quality of data on asbestos in diocesan schools is poor.  DfE must ensure that diocese follow best practice so that they are aware of the scale of asbestos problem in their property portfolios. They must be able to access the basic data that is essential for financial planning and policy decisions at local and national level, and is also essential for safe asbestos management. Once DfE insist diocese follow best, and safe, practice the data provided by them should then be of an acceptable standard. This problem has passed undetected because of DfE’s “light touch” policy and a lack of proper regulation, but the James review makes it clear that this information is essential to proper planning. If that is to be achieved DfE will have to amend their policy.

Most local authorities would therefore be able to provide the necessary data to a central data bank. Although the basic data is similar, the format in which it is stored and displayed is not necessarily so.  Some schools and authorities still maintain records in a paper format, however an increasing number of local authorities, commercial businesses with large property portfolios and Government Departments are converting to web-based property management systems. This has many advantages, some of which are:

  • All the information on asbestos in a property portfolio is stored and displayed in an easily accessible format.
  • The system can be readily updated.  
  • The data bank can be analysed automatically and displayed in a format so that specific information can be listed, prioritised or highlighted.
  • The system can cascade down from overall summaries of asbestos in the national portfolio to details of individual locations of asbestos within a building.
  • The system allows all aspects of asbestos management within a school to be priced and summarised, so that financial planning can take place at school, local authority and national level.
  • The risk posed by each location of asbestos is listed and scored. This can be summarised and collated at school, local authority and national level. Schools that are particularly at risk can be identified and prioritised.
  • The information on asbestos held on the web-based property portfolios data banks are precisely the sort of information that would be needed in a centrally collated data bank. 

It is therefore recommended that:

  • That local authorities adopt web-based asbestos management systems that can be accessed by DfE in order to enable local and national planning.

Consultation Q3-10: 
Flexible capital budget with local decision-making

Answer to Q3-10:

These questions are not directly within the remit of the AiS and therefore a response has not been included.

Consultation Q11
National Contracting and Procurement
11 Do you agree that there are benefits and efficiencies to be gained in building and capital maintenance from using national expertise, national procurement frameworks, a standard contract with suppliers and national project management? What do you consider to be the potential advantages and disadvantages?

Answer to Q11

Inspired, independent, leadership is required at a national level if the huge task of bringing the school stock up to a satisfactory level is to be achieved. National expertise is required so that good practice and exemplar designs can be produced and then replicated throughout the country. The basic and common design features of any new build must be tried and tested otherwise the mistakes of the past could be repeated in the future. Lessons have to be learnt from completed projects. National procurement frameworks will be necessary to achieve the economy of scale. A national body should have expertise drawn from all disciplines. They should have overall control of major projects. They should set standards and priorities. The body must have the expertise and the authority to make decisions and recommend policy. It must be open to parliamentary and public scrutiny.

The situation with the school stock now is similar to that in the years following WW11.  The nation post war was faced with the task of refurbishing, replacing or building a large number of schools. Between 1945 and 1975 more than 14,000 schools were built from scratch or had additional accommodation added. The peak year was 1968 when 736 schools were built.

The majority of those schools have now passed their design life with the CEO of PfS concluding that 80% are beyond their shelf life. This has been exacerbated as long term underfunding has meant that many schools have not been properly maintained so that they are now in a dilapidated state. The majority of schools therefore need refurbishing or replacement.

BSF had the potential to achieve that with the nation’s secondary schools, but just 186 schools had been completed over the course of the six years of the project after a huge capital investment. The James Review highlights the reasons why. The majority of the remaining 24,000 secondary and primary schools are in urgent need of refurbishment or replacement. The task is therefore on a similar scale as that experienced post war. 

Because of the pressing need to build large numbers of schools post war local authorities grouped together in consortia to design, procure and manage building projects.  The Department for Education’s Architects and Building Branch provided expertise and overall leadership. This allowed efficiency of scale in procurement and expertise at both local authority and national level that allowed lessons to be learnt and experience shared. Designs and components were standardised with the introduction of Modular or System built schools so that schools could be designed and constructed both rapidly and relatively inexpensively.  The other advantage of Modular build was that by design they did not require a huge skilled workforce to erect the buildings, so projects could advance rapidly with flexibility and minimal costs.  

The disadvantages are equally remarkable. The schools from this era are invariably not aesthetically pleasing. They are renowned for being hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The flat roofs leak. Because of their open wall and ceiling voids they pose a serious fire hazard. They have a relatively short design life compared to traditionally built schools.  Asbestos materials were widely used in their construction, even when the dangers were known. 

All these disadvantages are common to thousands of schools because of common designs and shared ideas under the overall leadership of the Architects and Building Branch. Mistakes in one school were therefore replicated in thousands of others. The widespread use of asbestos is the epitome of that. In 1967 the Department for Education were warned about the use of asbestos in schools and the increased vulnerability of children. Despite this schools continued to be built using large amounts of the more dangerous types of asbestos. The Architects and Building Branch even assured those local authorities who questioned the continued use of asbestos that it was perfectly safe. Unjustified assurances were also given to school staff and the public.

In 2011 similar assurances are given by DfE – despite all the evidence to the contrary.  It is therefore apparent that decisions and policy will continue to be primarily driven by political motives rather than that of safety and the well being of the staff and pupils.  Because of this it is recommended that:

  • There is independent scrutiny of decisions and policy of any National Body that may be set up.
  • A policy of transparency should be adopted by the National Body and by DfE.  

With more schools opting out of local authority control a pool of expertise is increasingly necessary when building work or refurbishment takes place. The responsibility of managing this work in a non-LA school rests on the governors, the headteacher or the school manager who frequently do not have the necessary skills. In the case of asbestos that can have profound financial and health implications. A very serious incident occurred in a primary school where thirty windows were ripped out of with power saws and crowbars causing extensive damage to large quantities of asbestos insulating board. There was widespread asbestos contamination of the school and the occupants were exposed. This had been caused by the fact that the school were responsible for their own maintenance, having opted out of the local authority control. The headteacher did not have the expertise of managing the work and had no training in asbestos awareness. The window contractors had no asbestos training and as well as causing extensive damage they fitted windows that were entirely wrong for the task. The damage was caused by lack of expertise amongst the school authorities, failure in procurement, a failure to select approved contractors and a failure of the local authority to oversee the project. It is therefore essential if similar mistakes are to be avoided that there is a central pool of expertise, an approved system of procurement, set standard that have to be achieved and are defined in contracts, and an expert body that can oversee projects.

Policy on whether asbestos is removed during school refurbishment is central to national risk and financial planning.

The new schools that are to be built will achieve good standards of design and they will be structurally sound and safe, however that will not be the case with the majority of schools as they will be refurbished. The Government confirmed that when schools are refurbished their policy is Asbestos which is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed or damaged is better left in place and managed until the end of the life of the building.”The public statements run contrary to DfE internal briefings where they acknowledge “HSE consider it safe to reoccupy buildings after asbestos has been properly removed.” The proof of this is that asbestos has been removed perfectly safely from universities, libraries, government departments, commercial buildings and some schools.  

The government’s policy is flawed as it is not based on a sound estimate of the long term costs of leaving the asbestos in place, or on an assessment of the long term risks to the occupants.  Instead it is founded on an illogical political fear of the implications of being open about asbestos in schools.

The last government took the decision that secondary schools would have asbestos removed during major refurbishments, but primary schools would not. This is a tacit acknowledgement that asbestos removal can be performed safely.  The Coalition Government has stated that it will treat both secondary and primary schools equally. However they have also confirmed that their policy is that asbestos will remain in schools when they are refurbished. This is inconsistent at the very least, because if it was safe to remove asbestos from schools under the last government it is equally safe under this one. The present government’s decision is not founded on facts, financial forecasts or a risk assessment.

Decisions such as these should be based on the best science and sound long term financial estimates that take into consideration all the potential expenses, and long term costs to health, incurred by leaving asbestos in place. The financial cost of managing or removing asbestos from schools is fundamental and should be at the centre of decision making when formulating policy on maintaining, refurbishing and rebuilding the school estate. The James report is precisely aimed at sound decision making so this is totally in line with their recommendations.

  • It is recommended that an independent, expert and impartial body should compare the financial costs of long term asbestos management in schools with the cost of progressive removal.

Consultation Q12
12 Do you have evidence to show that local or regional procurement arrangements offer better value for money for certain types of projects or within certain values? If so, please describe.

Answer Q12

Consultation Q13
13 Are there limits - contract value or type of project - where you think the case can best be made for local or regional contract procurement? Please specify below.

Answer Q13

Consultation Q14
14 What criteria do you suggest for projects to be potentially exempt from project management by the central body?

Answer Q14

Consultation Q15
15 Where local or regional procurement or project management is used, how can its benefits and learning be shared so as to achieve the same gains in all procurement?

Answer Q15

Other recommendations not covered specifically by this consultation that are set out in the Review
Consultation Q16
16 Do you have any immediate further comments you wish us to consider on other parts of the Recommendations from the Review?

Answer Q16

Recommendation 7 states: The Department ensures there is access to clear guidance on legal responsibilities in relation to maintenance of buildings. And Recommendation 9 states: That the Department revises its school premises regulations and guidance to remove unnecessary burdens and ensure that a single, clear set of regulations apply to all schools.

The AiS agrees and in their response to the Lofstedt review stated in relation to asbestos regulations and guidance:
It is often unclear to schools and local authorities which asbestos regulations, ACOPs and guidance apply to schools and which do not. The Regulations and ACOPs should be drafted so that they avoid this ambiguity and lack of clarity.

  • HSWA 1974. Some officials in position of authority are unaware that the Act applies to all the occupants of schools, including the pupils. The wording should be made clearer to avoid this lack of clarity.
  • CAR 2006 and ACOPs. It is at times unclear which regulations apply to schools and which do not.
  • It is recommended that asbestos guidance and ACOPs should be drafted specifically for schools. Consideration should be given to drafting specific asbestos regulations for schools.

Recommendation 10 states: There should be a clear, consistent Departmental position on what fit-for-purpose facilities entail. It is agreed there should be in the case of asbestos. For instance in some schools asbestos insulating board classroom ceilings are considered acceptable, whereas in others they are removed as they are considered potentially dangerous. There should be a clear Departmental position on what constitutes an unacceptable risk from asbestos material, and it should be based on expert, independent and impartial opinion.


Asbestos in Schools Group
10th October 2011