Many school buildings in England are now in such disrepair they are a ‘risk to life’, including being riddled with asbestos, leaked government documents have suggested.
The documents, leaked to The Observer newspaper, suggest officials at the Department for Education are pressing the Treasury to make extra billions of pounds available to increase the number of school rebuilding projects from 50 a year to more than 300.
One leaked email quoted by the newspaper said: “School buildings: the deteriorating condition of the school estate continues to be a risk, with condition funding flat for FY [financial year] 2022-23, some sites a risk-to-life, too many costly and energy-inefficient repairs rather than rebuilds, and rebuild demand x3 supply.”
The revelation follows calls last month by MPs for asbestos to be completely removed from all public and commercial buildings within 40 years to put an end to the thousands of deaths that occur each year due to past workplace exposures.
Despite being banned from use in 1999, a report from the Work and Pensions Committee noted that asbestos is still the single greatest cause of work-related fatalaties and contributed to 5,000 deaths in 2019, including from related cancers such as mesothelioma.
Asbestos in schools
On the latest leaks, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told The Observer: “The challenges that need to be addressed are huge. And whether the issue to be addressed is potentially dangerous roofing, retrofitting for energy efficiency and to help meet climate obligations, or basic repairs, the challenge is made all the greater by the presence of asbestos in so many school buildings.
“The government needs to show much more ambition and urgently address these issues in a strategic way,” he added.