The Public Accounts Committee has yet again criticised the Government for failing to ensure that asbestos in the school estate is being properly managed.
Nearly 90% of schools contain asbestos – and much of this has been in place for decades. Exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to the development of mesothelioma, an incurable cancer, later in life.
At least 40 teachers and members of school staff died from mesothelioma in 2017 – an increase of over 30% from the year previous. Even more shocking is that 200-300 former pupils die annually as adults because they were exposed to asbestos when a pupil at school. These stark figures prove that the Government’s policy of leaving asbestos ‘in situ’ has failed.
The PAC report points to the ongoing Asbestos Management Assurance Process – the DfE’s attempt to increase its limited knowledge about asbestos in the school estate. While responses have been received for 77% of schools (17,093), responsible bodies have only provided the necessary assurances that asbestos management is appropriate for just 53% (11,713) of schools, despite the deadline being pushed back on several occasions.
It is vital that employers and schools are open and transparent with staff and parents about the presence and management of asbestos in their school, and it is a legal requirement to do so. The findings of the AMAP may go some way to improving transparency, but the unions remain concerned that there will be significant gaps in the data, which relied solely on self-reported information.
The DfE told the PAC that ‘funding to deal with asbestos would be a top priority’. Despite this, there is no earmarked funding for asbestos removal and schools are being crippled by Government funding cuts. The Government should stop putting lives at risk and commit to the phased removal of all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first.
Emma Hardy MP, Chair of the Asbestos in Schools Group said:
‘Nearly 90% of our schools still contain asbestos – and this is putting pupils and staff at risk of developing fatal illnesses in later life. The PAC has rightly criticised Government’s inadequate approach to asbestos management.
What is needed is a Government funded phased removal of all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first. This is the only way to ensure the safety of school staff and most importantly pupils. As the Chair of the Asbestos in Schools group, I will be pressing the Government to commit the necessary funding for this’.
The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) was formed in 2010 and is a trade union campaigning committee comprising eight unions: Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL); National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT); National Education Union (NEU); NASUWT; UCU, Voice; plus the education sections of UNISON, Unite, and the GMB. The Group’s objective is to make all UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos. All the unions in JUAC are also members of the Asbestos in Schools (AIS) campaign.
JUAC is a non-party political group and both JUAC and AIS have a common interest in making UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos, both for staff and pupils. In the long-term we wish to see all asbestos removed from all schools and colleges. However, we recognise that, realistically, the focus in the short and medium-term must be on safe management of asbestos in schools and colleges.