It follows the release of new figures that show councils in England have paid out at least £10m in compensation to current and former school staff and ex-pupils who have developed illnesses because of asbestos in school buildings.
The figures have been obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to all local authorities in England and Wales, of which 135 responded. The FOI was submitted by Lucie Stephens, whose mother Sue, a reception teacher, died of mesothelioma - a type of cancer usually caused by asbestos exposure - this year.
Ms Stephens has also started a petition to fulfil her mother’s legacy of wanting asbestos removed from all schools.
The FOI responses also show:
- between 2011 and 2016, there were 99 reported incidents of asbestos exposure in school premises. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) says this is however likely to be a massive understatement as these are just known potential exposure incidents;
- there are at least 12,600 council-run schools where asbestos is known to be present. Schools that have been turned into academies are not included in the figures:
- there is no specific approach to monitoring the presence of asbestos in schools in England. Of those councils that responded, 13 said they held no information about which schools in their area contained asbestos, while others stated that full responsibility of the management of asbestos lies with the schools themselves.
The Asbestos in Schools group and Ms Stephens are now calling on the Government to take action to protect teachers and children from exposure to asbestos in schools.
Among their demands, they want better reporting of asbestos by schools, as well as a national audit and the implementation of a long-term strategy by the Government to remove all asbestos from schools – a move that was recommended by MPs in 2012.
Writing on her petition page, Ms Stephens said, ‘I’ve seen first-hand the pain and suffering that mesothelioma causes. I lost my darling mum to this disease, as a parent I need to be sure that my school-age daughter is not being put at risk simply by going to school. We can’t let more of our children and teachers die from this entirely preventable disease. The education minister Justine Greening must prioritise the removal of all asbestos from all our schools.’
John McClean, secretariat of the Asbestos in Schools group, said, ‘What this information reveals is that the Government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools is simply not working and is putting children and staff at risk.’
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said, 'The health and safety of children and staff in our schools is vital – that’s why we are investing £23 billion in school buildings by 2021. This will help ensure asbestos is managed safely and that the amount in school buildings continues to reduce over time.'
'Last year we published a comprehensive review of asbestos in schools and we are implementing its findings in full. We continue to work with the Health and Safety Executive and others on this issue to transform the way in which we collect information on asbestos to improve our understanding.'
- For more infotmation on mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.