Governors go to court over repairs

Governors of a Liverpool comprehensive school are preparing to take legal action against the local education authority for failing to do urgent repairs which affect the health and safety of pupils.

In a move which could spawn similar actions nationwide, a solicitor acting for the governors of Childwall Comprehensive has written to Liverpool council setting out a catalogue of defects and giving the authority 21 days to rectify them.

Under the Environmental Health Act, if the "nuisance" is not abated within that time, the school will be able to get a court order compelling the authority to act.

Problems range from a leaking roof affecting electrical circuits to a gas leak and an allegedly unsafe gym floor. The state of the buildings was severely criticised in a report by the Office for Standards in Education last November.

Putting the defects right would cost "a substantial sum", the solicitor for the governors, Gregory Abrams, told The TES.

The school has repeatedly asked Labour-controlled Liverpool council to remedy the problems, but says it has turned a deaf ear.

Action has been delayed partly because there was a plan to sell off the school buildings for supermarket development and rebuild it on one site. That is not now going ahead.

Liverpool council claims its failure to act is the result of gross government underfunding. "This year we received a mere Pounds 70,000 when we bid for Pounds 9 million," said Neville Bann, chair of the education committee.

Despite that, he said, the city had either spent or was about to spend some Pounds 200,000 on repairs to Childwall, including Pounds 50,000 on a new steel roof. Work on that was due to start "in the next couple of months", a council spokesman said.

Dewi Phillips, headteacher at Childwall, said he understood the financial constraints, but stressed that he had a responsibility to the pupils. There had been concern about the state of buildings for some time before he became head in 1993.

The roof was one of the biggest items, but only one of the deficiencies, he pointed out.

The OFSTED report said Childwall's buildings were in "a poor state of repair and decoration", and some aspects of the fabric raised concerns about health and safety.

"The structural upkeep and repair of the buildings indicates a degree of neglect by the local education authority," the inspectors wrote.

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