Teachers at 'blue-water' schools to return to work

Union says it is safe to return to work at 'blue-water' schools - but 'a number of important issues' still be addressed

Tes Reporter

Teachers at two schools that have been at the centre of a 'blue-water' health scare are set to return to work

A union has said that striking teachers at the centre of a long-running health scare can go back to work – but serious health concerns remain.

More than 30 teachers have been on strike this week at the two North Lanarkshire schools where staff and pupils have raised concerns about the safety of the water. The schools' campus was built on a former landfill site.

The NASUWT Scotland union said this afternoon that, having taken expert advice, "remedial action taken on the [St Ambrose High and Buchanan High] campus, particularly in relation to the water system and the commitment to ongoing, regular testing, enables them to advise that NASUWT members can return to work".

Earlier this week: Staff out on strike at health-scare schools

Background: Report finds no link to illness

Quick read: Teachers strike at 'blue-water' school

Government steps in: Review of ‘blue-water’ schools ordered

The union said that discussions are now underway with North Lanarkshire Council for a return to work of NASUWT members on Friday.

'Blue-water' health scare at schools

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “It is reassuring that our experts believe that the remedial action that has been taken has now made it safe for our members to return to work. 

“However, there are still a number of important issues which need to be addressed.

“The ongoing health issues being experienced by some of our members, including those diagnosed with bladder cancer, remain of deep concern. It has yet to be demonstrated that these are not linked to the conditions on the site in the months and years before the recent remedial actions were taken on the water system and other aspects of the working environment."

She added: “Only this week yet another NASUWT member tested positive for elevated levels of arsenic. The NASUWT and its lawyers will be continuing to pursue these, and any other cases which present themselves, with the council.

“The NASUWT also believes that support will be needed for staff from the council, not least to address the deep stress and anxiety that [school staff] have suffered over a long period of time, which has taken its toll on their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Whilst NASUWT members may be returning to work, the NASUWT is not withdrawing its current industrial action ballot and will not do so until we are confident that all of the recommendations in the [recent independent] report are being implemented fully and we have had a series of air, water and gas membrane test results that confirm that there is no deterioration of the position, following the remedial work recently undertaken."

Ms Keates also said: “If it hadn’t been for the willingness of the NASUWT members to take a strong stand on this issue, many of the actions which have now been taken on the site would never have occurred and much of the information which staff, parents and the public now quite rightly have access to would never have been made available.

“We have to be sure that lessons have been learned, that all involved recognise that the health and welfare of individuals must always be given priority and that this situation never happens again.

“I will be meeting with the council next week for further discussions to ensure that the progress which has now been made is maintained going forward.”

A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said: “We welcome the announcement of the NASUWT to suspend their industrial action at Buchanan High And St Ambrose High schools following constructive discussions, and we look forward to their return to work on Friday.

“The Scottish government’s independent review of the site made it clear that the schools are safe and there is no connection between the campus and any illness.

“We have already implemented many of the report’s recommendations and will continue to work closely and collaboratively with parents, pupils and staff to ensure that all of our pupils continue to receive an outstanding education.”

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