Name and Shame Schools That Ignore Asbestos Deadline, MPs Say
- Date: Tuesday 19th February 2019
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The Department for Education (DfE) should “name and shame” schools that fail to respond to a new requirement to confirm that they are meeting their legal duties on controlling asbestos risk in their buildings, an influential committee of MPs has recommended.
The report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Academy accounts and performance, also reveals that only 77% of schools have so far met the new requirement to state their asbestos compliance, despite the deadline for doing so being extended three times.
The DfE launched the Asbestos Management Assurance Process (AMAP) on 1 March 2018, requiring all state-funded schools, run by local authorities or academy trusts, to proactively confirm that they are complying with the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012 by making a declaration of compliance on behalf of the dutyholder.
Schools had to provide evidence that they had sought professional advice on asbestos in their buildings, and that they had an up to date action plan that was reviewed every two years.
The original deadline for responding to the DfE’s online survey was 31 May 2018, but to due to the poor response rate this was extended to 25 June and then 27 July 2018, according to the PAC report.
The DfE told the PAC that only 77% of schools had responded by the second deadline, expressing its disappointment at the response rate.
The survey was the reopened and the deadline for responding extended a third time, to 15 February 2019.
However, the MPs said: “We are not convinced that extending the survey deadline again will result in a much higher response rate.”
They recommend that, in March, the DfE should “name and shame those schools which did not meet the February 2019 deadline and which have therefore repeatedly failed to respond to its asbestos management survey.”
Meg Hillier, PAC chair and Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, said: “Asbestos in schools can pose a significant threat to the health of pupils, staff and visitors. Where the risks are not being managed correctly, government must be prepared to step in.
“It is not acceptable for schools to continue ignoring requests for details of asbestos in their buildings. The DfE must name and shame schools that fail to meet its February deadline.”
The DfE also told the committee that those schools that did not respond would be picked up in a school condition survey, due to be completed this autumn.
However, the MPs are not convinced that this survey “will provide the level of specific assurance needed about how asbestos is being managed.”
The report says: “We remain seriously concerned about the department’s lack of information and assurance about asbestos in school buildings.”
The report also notes that the committee first raised this issue in April 2017.
The DfE told the committee that schools might not have responded to AMAP survey “as this was something they had never done before”.
“We asked if publicly identifying asbestos, without the necessary funds to deal with it, might be a contributory factor,” the report says. “The department told us that it had not identified this as an issue and that funding to deal with asbestos would be a top priority.”
Hillier said: “Government needs to be clear how asbestos removal will be funded as it is not possible for schools to fund this from their existing budgets.”
Emma Hardy MP, chair of the union-backed 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.”
“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.”
According to the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), whose members also form part of the Asbestos in Schools Group, at least 40 teachers and members of school staff died from mesothelioma in 2017, up by more than 30% on the year before.
Between 200 and 300 former pupils die annually as adults following expose to asbestos at school, says JUAC, which brings together ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UCU, UNISON, Unite and Voice.