Schools that fail to give the DfE information about asbestos in their buildings should be named and shamed, an influential committee of MPs has said.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today said it was “seriously concerned” about the lack of information the Department for Education has about asbestos in schools.
The warning comes after almost a quarter of schools failed to respond to a DfE survey about the situation, which the NEU teaching union said was “putting lives at risk”.
The DfE launched its asbestos management assurance process in March 2018, giving schools until the end of May to respond to the survey.
However, because of a poor response rate, it extended the deadline, first to 25 June, then 27 July, and now 15 February 2019.
The PAC had heard that almost a quarter of schools (23 per cent) had failed to give the required information by the July deadline.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “These delays show that academy trusts and local authorities who bear overall responsibility for health and safety in schools are not facing up to their legal responsibilities.”
The DfE had told the PAC that schools that still failed to respond would be picked up in its school condition survey, which today's PAC report notes will not be completed until autumn 2019.
The report says: “We are not convinced that extending the survey deadline again will result in a much higher response rate, or that the condition survey will provide the level of specific assurance needed about how asbestos is being managed.”
The MPs have asked the DfE whether “publicly identifying asbestos, without the necessary funds to deal with it”, might be a reason for schools’ failure to provide the information.
In response, the DfE told it that it had not identified this as an issue and that funding to deal with asbestos would be a top priority.
Now, the committee has called for the DfE to publicly identify schools that fail to meet next month’s deadline.
It says: “In March 2019, the department should name and shame those schools which did not meet the February 2019 deadline and which have therefore repeatedly failed to respond to its asbestos management survey.”
However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The real problem is not response rates but the fact that there is no clear plan at government level over how to fund the removal of asbestos from school buildings and schools are desperately short of the money they need to finance such work.”
The DfE has been approached for comment.