It's the pupils that are at risk

1st June 2001 at 01:00
I read Bob Gray's response to Willie Hart's article on public private partnerships (Avisandum, May 11) with a mixture of dismay, anger and sadness. Dismay, that someone in Mr Gray's position should seem more intent in scoring points than in dealing with issues. Anger, that he should likewise dismiss the concerns of teachers as nothing more than a"diatribe" of political disaffection. Sadness, that someone in such a key position on the council should view education in such narrow terms - buildings, rooms and cost.

I am sure Mr Gray does consult with his constituents on local issues so that he can work on their behalf at council level (unless they, too, have to accept that he knows best). This is exactly what Mr Hart has been doing. In his case, the constituents are people like myself and my colleagues. Mr Hart has received a lengthy dossier from our school, describing the real situation in a "refurbishment" site.

This is what Mr Gray dismisses as "diatribe". I cannot believe that Mr Gray has not been fully informed by those officials from the education department who have visited this school in response to a variety of crises. Even the Health and Safety Executive have had to intervene more than once. We needed the advice of a fire safety officer at one point. Surely, he has been told about the pound;40,000 fine imposed on the contractor for failing to maintain acceptable standards.

Surely he knows that this particular project is currently three weeks behind schedule. This information is in the public domain so it should not be news to Mr Gray. Other serious concerns are contained in the minutes of the weekly site meetings he refers to in his article, which I attend and which, I believe, are circulated to education officials.

There, too, Mr Gray will find evidence that "pressing problems" are not "always dealt with speedily". Dust samples requested weeks ago are still unavailable. As are health checks promised some time ago. Problems of noise and disruption to education are regularly raised, as are others related to "interface" - where building workers and school stff and pupils share the same space - but the driving priority is always the building deadline, so teachers are told "snagging" must be addressed and "background" noise is inevitable.

As I write I hear banging and hammering above my head and I am within yards of the assembly hall where students are sitting their national exams. Moments earlier I interrupted this letter to help stop a noisy generator being used outside the examination room window. Please note, teachers are sensible enough to know that building work can be noisy and dusty and contractors are sensible - and, certainly on this site, sensitive - enough to know that.

Teachers and pupils cannot work through constant noise. There is mutual respect for each other's situation. The sad fact is that the needs of both can conflict too easily when they are too close together.

An even sadder fact is that the council has not responded to our fears that pupil's education will be the biggest loser. Yes, teachers are concerned about health and safety - their own and that of the children. Yes, we are concerned about our working conditions - workload and stress are serious concerns. However, whether Mr Gray accepts it or not, our complaints are not politically motivated. We are seriously worried about the education of our pupils. Needless to say, those young people sitting national exams are of particular concern. Their preparation has been seriously disrupted. The examinations themselves are taking place in the midst of building work.

Instead of belittling Bob Hart, Mr Gray should ask himself what was happening during the first three months of this project when conditions deteriorated to such a level that we were forced to engage the services of the Educational Institute of Scotland for health and safety reasons.

To this day, no one from the city council or the education department has spoken to the teachers in the school.

Tom Murphy Principal teacher and EIS representative Michael Cassidy Principal teacher and EIS health and safety representative Saint Roch's Secondary Royston Road, Glasgow

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