Asbestos found in schools prompts call for air sampling

Concerns raised in Parliament over statistics showing there is asbestos in 1,600 schools in Scotland

Henry Hepburn

Asbestos found in schools prompts call for air sampling

Fears over the presence of asbestos in many schools has prompted a call in the Scottish Parliament  for the air sampling to be carried out.

Labour MSP Neil Bibby today asked education secretary and deputy first minister John Swinney how many  primary and secondary school buildings contained asbestos.

In response, Mr Swinney said: "That information is not held centrally. However, local authorities are required to keep an up-to-date record of the location of asbestos in their school buildings.

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"Although health and safety legislation is reserved to the United Kingdom government, we take the issue of asbestos in schools very seriously and expect local authorities to strictly follow Health and Safety Executive recommendations on the handling of asbestos."

Mr Bibby said: "It is of concern that the deputy first minister could not tell us how many school buildings contain asbestos. I can tell him that, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, asbestos is present in more than 1,600 school buildings.

" Would the deputy first minister agree that there is a strong case for more regular air sampling on the school estate?"

The figure of 1,600 schools given by Mr Bibby would represent about two-thirds of the 2,500 primary, secondary and special schools in the state sector in Scotland.

Mr Bibby asked if the education secretary would meet him – as well as Clydeside Action on Asbestos, trade unions and fellow Labour MSP Anas Sarwar – in order to" discuss what further action can be taken to ensure that, where asbestos is present, fibre counts are kept at safe levels for children and staff".

John Swinney said he would be happy to, but that he had already made clear "that there are very strict requirements under health and safety legislation on the handling and management of asbestos."

He added: "That obligation falls on local authorities, which have the statutory duty for the management of the school estate."

In July a teaching union in England called for a programme to remove asbestos from school buildings, arguing that "managing" the substance is not a solution.

The comments come as Department for Education survey revealed that almost one in five (17.8 per cent) schools in England were not managing asbestos "in line" with government guidance.

The survey, to which 19,522 schools responded, found around four in five (81-84 per cent) of England’s school buildings have asbestos somewhere on their site.

In January, an influential committee of MPs said that schools which fail to give the DfE information about asbestos in their buildings should be named and shamed.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it was “seriously concerned” about the lack of information the DfE had about asbestos in schools.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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