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Teaching unions call for urgent action to remove deadly asbestos in schools

THE failure to remove asbestos from school buildings across Britain is a deadly legacy on staff and pupils, teaching unions warned today on Action Mesothelioma Day.

More than 80 per cent of schools in England have the potentially cancer-causing material present, according to latest figures by the Department for Education (DfE).

Research by the Joint Unions Asbestos Committee found that 1,000 school staff in Britain have already died from mesothelioma between 1980-2017.

And up to 9,000 former pupils may also have died from mesothelioma during the same period.

Teachers’ union NASUWT has called on politicians to adopt recommendations by the work and pensions select committee, including for the introduction of a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings.

Under current government plans to build just 50 new schools a year, it would take over 350 years to completely eradicate asbestos from all schools in England, the union said.

Figures from the National Audit Office (NAO) show that the DfE spent on average just £2.3 billion a year on building and refurbishing schools, compared to £7.5bn in 2009-10 before the Tories came into power.

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and it is a national disgrace that the UK has one of the highest mesothelioma mortality rates in the world.

“The risks are now well known, yet as last week’s NAO report shows, there is a lack of urgency from the DfE to address the problem.

“This is needlessly and avoidably passing on a potentially deadly legacy to the staff and children working and learning in our schools today.”

The union is working with committee chairman Sir Stephen Timms to raise demands in Parliament.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton said that the only way to fully eliminate the risk of asbestos on staff and pupil health is to remove it completely. 

He said: “ASCL and other organisations have repeatedly urged the government to fund and implement a programme of phased removal.

“The government has shown no inclination to do this, nor address the huge backlog of repairs needed across the school estate.

“This is further evidence of the government’s failure to prioritise education and the wellbeing of pupils, leaders and staff.”


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