Ian Lavery – School Building Crisis Shows Sweeping Changes Needed


“Using cheap, short term solutions to construct our public buildings that are now collapsing all around us is a fitting metaphor for the state of our country more generally.“

Ian Lavery MP

By Ian Lavery MP

We recently saw another jaw dropping example of incompetence of this current government with the revelation that school buildings that were built with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) are now deemed to be unsafe and at risk of collapse at any moment.

Understandably my office has been flooded with emails from concerned parents horrified at the idea that as the new school year begins they are sending their kids into buildings that could collapse above them with little to no prior warning. Sadly this scandal is not confined to schools as fresh revelations reveal that Raac is rife across our public buildings, including in hospitals.

Just as concerning are the consequences this may have for triggering the asbestos that shockingly remains widespread across school buildings. As the chair of the APPG on Occupation Health and Safety I have long campaigned for the government to act swiftly and decisively to produce a timeline for removing all asbestos from public buildings, including schools.

Some estimates find that asbestos is present in around 90% of our schools, and recent data published by the Health and Safety Executive shows that in the UK the number of teachers, and indeed students, dying from asbestos related illnesses was on the increase. The UK has the highest levels of Mesothelioma deaths in the world – indeed more people due from asbestos related illnesses than from road traffic accidents each year. 

The current position of the government, that this asbestos can lie dormant and undisturbed, has long been debunked, but this new scandal brings fresh concerns. If school buildings are at risk of falling down then there is also the additional factor that this will activate the supposedly dormant asbestos in our schools, therefore literally putting the lives of countless school staff and students at risk.

The state of our public schools is truly shocking. While it is a relief that no schools in Northumberland have been found to contain Raac, this is only the case because so many of them are so old that they were built long before Raac was being used in construction. Last Friday I paid a visit to two primary schools in my constituency, one built in 1911 and the other in 1837. While there was no concern regarding Raac, these buildings had broken windows, leaking roofs, makeshift classrooms and were in no way acceptable buildings for children to be learning in in the 21st century.

A report this week by the Child of the North group highlighted the regional divide is in the UK when it comes to educational funding. It found schools in the North receive less on average from the National Funding Formula, £6, 225 per pupil in the North compared to £6,610 in London. This divide was stark in the country’s A Level and GCSE results which saw the North East fall behind other areas in the country when it comes to educational attainment.

Using cheap, short term solutions to construct our public buildings that are now collapsing all around us is a fitting metaphor for the state of our country more generally. That we knew that this was a potential issue way back in 1994 but successive governments chose to sweep it under the carpet is yet another damning indictment of the inability of the state and lack of interest from the government to provide the most basic solution to public problems.

Not that we needed yet another reminder, but once again this shows that in the UK the fact is that nothing works anymore to the point that we can’t even be sure our children will go to school in a building that will still be standing by the end of the day. Once again I emphasis that sweeping changes are needed for our country that must begin first and foremost with an election as soon as possible so we can see the back of this dreadful Conservative government.

Featured image: Ian Lavery addresses the enough is enough rally in Newcastle on October 1st 2022. Photo credit: Ian Lavery MP

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