Most teachers unaware of school asbestos, poll suggests

The majority of teachers are working in a school which contains asbestos – yet findings published today suggest that only a fifth are aware of it

most schools have asbestos

Most teachers are unaware that they are working in a school building with asbestos, a survey suggests.

The snap survey, published today by the NEU teaching union, reveals that more than a fifth (21 per cent) of teachers say they are working in a school building with asbestos.

But government statistics show that more than 80 per cent of school buildings have asbestos present.

The NEU says a total of 319 teachers have died from the lung disease mesothelioma since 1980.


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One secondary teacher told the NEU survey that her science block had been shut down because of asbestos, while another told the survey: “We know we have asbestos in our school but despite repeated requests, we are not told where.”

 Another said: “We currently don't have properly working fire alarms as these were renovated over summer but the builders wouldn't drill into any walls as they're all asbestos.”

The NEU, as part of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, says it has called upon successive governments to take action on asbestos.

A spokesperson said: “Schools, parents and children deserve nothing less than a detailed national survey of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools.

“The government’s line has been that it is safer to manage asbestos than to remove it, but this is simply untenable.”

The survey cites a freedom of information request from 2016 that showed an average of 17 teachers were dying from the disease every year – up from a rate of three per year during 1980-85.

They include Sue Stephens, a former primary school teacher, who died from mesothelioma in 2016, and at whose inquest the coroner concluded she was most likely exposed to asbestos during her time in schools. 

The survey also revealed that almost half of teachers say their school or college buildings were not fit for purpose, with most blaming school funding cuts as the reason why.

The Department for Education was contacted for comment.

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