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TRADE unionists and campaigners have expressed alarm at the scandalous amount of asbestos still present in British schools.
Most schools and academies contain enough of the hazardous material to put the lives of pupils and staff in serious danger, according to figures published today by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC).
Worryingly, the committee warns that academy schools’ freedom from government scrutiny means the authorities lack knowledge about asbestos in them.
The figures, obtained through freedom of information requests, include 54 asbestos exposure incidents in multi-academy trusts, including in computer rooms, children’s toilets and recently built car parks.
However, authorities only took action in five of these instances.
Since many multi-academy trusts ignored investigators’ request for information — and some refused it outright — the committee’s findings almost certainly underestimate the extent of the problem.
Only last week, the parliamentary public accounts committee highlighted the lack of transparency on asbestos management in academy schools.
JUAC chairman John McClean expressed concern at the lack of uniformity in how schools deal with the highly carcinogenic material, which used to be widely used in construction because of its fire-resistant and insulating qualities.
Branding the government’s schemes a “failure,” he urged a planned and phased removal of all asbestos from schools.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that, “given the parlous state of school and local authority funding,” the government must intervene to ensure that appropriate funds are available to schools.
“It should not be a choice between books in the classroom and the safety of the school population,” the union leader said.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Asbestos in Schools group of MPs, said: “The government’s failure to get a grip on this issue is putting children and teaching staff at needless risk.
“These latest findings show that many schools are unaware of the risk or the extent of asbestos in our schools.
“The government needs to come up with a clear strategy to ensure any potential exposure to asbestos is minimised and that staff and pupils are kept safe.”
She said Labour was committed to a phased removal of asbestos from schools.
The Department for Education was not available for comment.
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