23% of Schools in England Failing to Report Asbestos Details

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It has been found that nearly a quarter of all schools in England are failing to report how much asbestos is in their building and how they are managing the risks – a committee of MPs has warned.

The deadline for schools to provide details of to the government was May 31 2018.

However, the Public Accounts Committee says they are “seriously concerned” about the lack of information that the Department for education has about asbestos in schools.

It also strongly suggested that schools that have not reported back should be “named and shamed”.

It is widely known that asbestos was banned from usage in 1999, however, it was used widely in construction right up to this date. It was particularly prevalent in schools and other buildings built between 1950 and 1990.

Commencing March last year, the Department for Education collected data about how asbestos was being managed across schools in England. This measure was taken to check that local academy trusts and authorities were responding to the danger appropriately.

“The department asked schools to respond by 31 May 2018. Due to the poor response rate, it extended the deadline to 25 June 2018 and then extended it again to 27 July 2018,” the PAC report says.

“Despite this, only 77% of schools have responded and the department has extended the deadline yet again, to 15 February 2019, to allow the remaining 23% of schools to respond.”

The committee adds: “We are not convinced that extending the survey deadline again will result in a much higher response rate.”

The committee says the government needs to “understand fully the extent of asbestos in school buildings and how the risks are being managed” and should release the names of those schools that have not replied.

“In March 2019, the department 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,” it says.

Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “It is not acceptable for schools to continue ignoring requests for details of asbestos in their buildings.

“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.

“Asbestos in schools can pose a significant threat to the health of pupils, staff and visitors.

“Where the risks are not being managed correctly, the government must be prepared to step in.”

“The committee suggests naming and shaming those bodies which have not responded but it would surely be more productive to understand what factors are holding up responses,” Geoff Barton said.

“The real problem is not response rates but the fact that there is no clear plan at government level over how to fund the removal of asbestos from school buildings and schools are desperately short of the money they need to finance such work.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Failure to provide the DfE with information about management of asbestos in schools is putting lives at risk.

“These delays show that academy trusts and local authorities who bear overall responsibility for health and safety in schools are not facing up to their legal responsibilities.”