Theat to New School Term after 13 Years of Tory Misrule
During the summer school holiday, online portals, TV programs and newspapers began disseminating news of a troubling situation in UK schools and public buildings including hospitals, medical centers, council offices, courts, police stations, etc.1 By the time, children were getting ready to return to school the situation had become a full-blown crisis.
The weekend (September 2 &3, 2023) before schools in England were due to reopen, reports began circulating that 100+ schools would remain closed over concerns of structural failures due to the hazard posed by deteriorating reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete material (RAAC). In a September 3, 2023 blog by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, asbestos and asbestos-containing material, which are ubiquitous throughout the school estate, werent mentioned despite the fact that in the last forty years some 10,000 teachers, students and school staff are thought to have died from asbestos exposure from educational buildings.2
Two teachers who died from the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma having been exposed to asbestos in schools; Gina Lees (top) died aged 51 in 2000 and Susan Stephens (below) died aged 68 in 2016.
On September 4, 2023, National Education Union leader Daniel Kebede was asked about Keegans lack of concern about crumbling concrete exposing asbestos on a TV news program. Kebede, who replied that he was a parent as well as a representative of teachers and school staff, said: 90% of schools still contain asbestos and when you mix that with crumbling concrete theres a real mix of risks that is well beyond what we should expect our children to be exposed to...3
Responding to a follow-up question about whether he shared Gilligans lack of concern over the presence of asbestos material in buildings with RAAC, he said that he disagreed with the Education Secretarys position: Its a concern, Kebede said. He isnt the only one worried about the combination of deteriorating concrete and aging asbestos. In a Sunday Times article on September 3, engineering expert Max Byatt warned: There are two real risk-to-life elements to this: if RAAC collapses it puts life at risk in an instantaneous manner: and asbestos can be deadly if it is inhaled. In the aftermath of Kebedes interview, a google of the words RAAC and asbestos, brought up multiple articles about the situation in schools and hospitals.4
On BBC Radio 4s Today program on Monday morning (September 4), Jonathan Slater, the Department for Educations former head civil servant, revealed that when Rishi Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had ignored evidence presented by officials documenting a critical risk to life posed by RAAC and proceeded to slash the funding needed to make hundreds of schools safe. Without pausing to take a breath, Sunak responded to Slaters accusations saying it was completely and utterly wrong to allege that he was to blame for failing to adequately resource the rebuilding program.5
As structural surveys proceed, more schools will be shuttered for critical repairs; it is undeniable that the presence of asbestos in these buildings will both complicate as well as delay the works needed to protect children and staff. The Conservatives had plenty of warnings. They didnt listen. It will be the children and teachers, however, who will ultimately pay the price for their political complacency and maladministration.
September 5, 2023
1Hencke, D. How the Government Failed to Act on the Collapsing School Building Scandal. September 2, 2023.
Prosser, E. J. Crumbly concrete scandal: Now West Suffolk hospital is warned its main building is 'likely' to COLLAPSE - and emergency workers will be poisoned by asbestos as they comb through the rubble. September 4, 2023.
Concrete tests ordered on 1990s court buildings. September 4, 2023.
RAAC concrete repairs could cost millions, says Dundee University. September 4, 2023.
2 Department for Education. Update from the education secretary on how were supporting UK schools with RAAC. September 3, 2023.
Walker. P. Sunak refused to fully fund repairs of Englands crumbling schools, says ex-official. September 4, 2023.
3 Noyce, E., Mathers, M. Concrete closure list: What schools will have to close because of crumbling RAAC? September 4, 2023.
4 Murray, J. How asbestos could slow efforts to fix crumbling concrete in English school. September 3, 2023.
5 Walker. P. Sunak refused to fully fund repairs of Englands crumbling schools, says ex-official. September 4, 2023.