Teachers at risk of asbestos exposure in one in five schools

Government issues new safety warnings as study finds asbestos present in 83 per cent of schools, with 19 per cent failing to safely manage the risk

Jonathan Owen

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Schoolchildren and teachers are being put at risk of asbestos exposure in around one in five schools across England, according to a new report released today by the Education Funding Agency (EFA). 

Nineteen per cent of schools have not been safely managing asbestos risks and in more than 100 schools the situation has been so serious that the Department for Education (DfE) had to step in.

More than 5,500 schools took part in the research into asbestos management in schools, which was conducted last year. Of those, 4,646 (83.1 per cent) reported that asbestos was present.

The research results, released today, also reveal significant failures to guard against the risks of asbestos.

“Around 20 per cent were not fully compliant, in that they did not have fully documented plans, processes and procedures in place at the time of the data collection; or did not know if asbestos was present,” the report states.

There were 114 schools where there was “significant cause for concern”. All were contacted and “have provided assurances that asbestos, where it is still present, is being managed effectively and have adequately addressed our concerns.”

'Don't put drawing pins in the wall'

Concern over the number of schools which were not properly managing the risks of asbestos has prompted the EFA to issue new guidance. This includes details such as reminding teachers not to put drawing pins into walls as this can release asbestos fibres where the material is present.

“Managed carefully, the presence of asbestos in your school will not pose a risk to your staff and pupils. However, poor management of asbestos in your school could endanger lives,” the EFA warns. “Undamaged, sealed materials will not release fibres. However, if materials containing asbestos are disturbed or damaged, asbestos fibres can be released into the air and breathed in by staff and children. This puts them at risk of contracting a number of serious diseases in later life, including mesothelioma and lung cancer."

Responding to the news, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “It is deeply concerning that 20 per cent of those schools responding to the data collection were not fully compliant with regulations.”

The data collection was a voluntary exercise so the true number of schools failing to comply with regulations “could be substantially higher, with hundreds of schools putting pupils and teachers at risk by failing to manage asbestos effectively”, she warned.

“Asbestos is lethal. The only safe asbestos is removed asbestos. The DfE must bring forward proposals for the phased removal of all asbestos in schools without delay,” said Ms Keates.

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Jonathan Owen

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