While the report focuses on the system for funding new schools and new places in existing schools it also explores the condition of school buildings, many of which contain deadly amounts of asbestos.
Many schools were built before 1976 and are coming to the end of their useful life. A former head teacher gave evidence to the inquiry describing the impact of asbestos ceiling tiles at his school.
Before the school building was replaced he described two or three occasions when the school had to be closed and how students had to receive “defumigation treatment” following exposure to asbestos dust.
The Department of Education did not assess the extent of asbestos in school buildings when it carried out a property data survey of school buildings, instead asking schools to complete a voluntary questionnaire about asbestos presence. Only one in four schools responded to this request, but 83% reported the presence of asbestos.
The Department of Education estimates that it would cost at least £100 billion to replace the entire school estate which is believed to be the only way to eradicate asbestos from schools entirely.
Earlier this year the Education Funding Agency produced a report, Managing asbestos in your school pointing out that failing to follow the advice in the guidance could put the future health of the school’s staff and pupils at risk.
The PAC report recommends that the Department of Education improves its knowledge of the prevalence of asbestos in schools through improved data gathering.
Watch this short film from Mavis and Ray Nye on asbestos in schools.
Mesothelioma lawyer at Leigh Day, Harminder Bains, said:
“I find gravely worrying that so many school buildings in the UK still contain asbestos. No form of asbestos is safe and by leaving it in situ we are exposing generations of children to the threat of serious illness in later life.
“The Department of Education must do more to get our school buildings safe for use.”