Securing our children's safety is paramount

11th April 2014 at 01:00

It is a tragedy that has left school leaders, teachers, students and parents across the country in shock. The terrible death of 12-year-old Keane Wallis-Bennett, who was killed by a collapsing wall at Edinburgh's Liberton High, has left her family and friends devastated by their loss.

The thoughts of the entire education sector in Scotland and beyond have been with them and with the school community at Liberton. The heartfelt tribute of Keane's headteacher and the many flowers left by well-wishers are an indication of how difficult it is going to be to return to normal school life.

Edinburgh City Council has tried its best to reassure parents, children and staff, not just at Liberton but across the city. Inspections of all schools were carried out immediately, and similar, so-called modesty walls were cordoned off. At a primary school, one was reportedly demolished.

But the repercussions go beyond the city boundaries. Communities rightly assume that our schools are places of safety, where children and young people learn in an environment that may not be the most beautiful or modern, but which can be relied upon to be safe.

No parent in Scotland would send their child to school in the morning in the expectation that they may not come back, and no teacher goes into their classroom every day thinking they are risking their life.

Michael Russell, the education secretary, has called on all councils to carry out checks on their school estates, and this week's TESS survey shows that almost all are doing so. The move is intended to reassure parents, staff and students before the first of them return from their spring break next week.

But the question needs to be asked: would the checks being carried out now have picked up the problem at Liberton? After all, Edinburgh City Council insists that an inspection of all its schools last year highlighted no issues with the Liberton modesty wall. The councils in our survey, too, assure us that school estates are checked regularly and safety concerns addressed quickly - a policy that they claim has not been affected by budget cuts.

Parents and politicians in Edinburgh were this week calling for an acceleration of planned upgrades to the school estate in the city to avoid similar tragedies. It is likely that similar demands will be made elsewhere.

Keane's death provides the starkest of reminders that maintaining infrastructure must remain a priority. Schools should not only provide young people with the best possible learning environment, they must also safeguard students and staff.

That such a tragedy took place on what seemed like the most routine of days is a grim memento of the unpredictability of life. And now we must endeavour to stop it happening again.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk

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