Beeb's 'incompetent' teachers barb provokes ire and empathy

16th July 2010 at 01:00

Your excellent editorial, article and review about Panorama were spot on ("Panorama: an old story shabbily told", July 9). This tabloid programme with the tabloid title - Can I Sack Teacher? - seemed designed to stir viewers and newspapers into indignation with its alarmist approach and dated "evidence".

However, the programme-makers are missing a really scandalous story about an issue that threatens the health and even the lives of children and staff: the presence of asbestos in about 75 per cent of schools in Britain, in ceilings, wall linings and pipe lagging.

In the past 25 years, at least 178 teachers have died from mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. There are no statistics for pupil fatalities because of the disease's long latency. Research by ATAC (Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association) and by Voice reveal that in many schools staff are not aware of the dangers; they do not know where it is and are not involved in its management.

Campaigners have been calling for urgent action to improve standards of asbestos management, and to create an action plan in schools, including: audits, risk assessments, relevant training and guidance, and for all asbestos to be identified and removed in a phased programme when schools were refurbished under Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

BSF might not have been perfect but it transformed many schools. Now it is coming to an end, thousands of pupils and staff will continue to endure temporary classrooms and crumbling buildings contaminated with asbestos. At the same time, the Government is pressing ahead with "free" schools - which will require an injection of new money when it is cutting spending, and create thousands of surplus places in existing schools, resulting in an even larger drain on stretched budgets.

These are the real scandals Panorama should be investigating.

Philip Parkin, General secretary, Voice: the union for education professionals, Derby.

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