Leicester NUT Section of the NEU

Andy Haynes Leicester H&S Officer, 8th November 2016

Academies Are Bad For Your Health

One of the less publicised problems with the growth of academies and free schools is the erosion of safeguards for Health and Safety.

Local Authorities have the ultimate duty of care to ensure that their maintained schools are safe places for students and teachers alike.

In Leicester this means that the LA regularly sends advisers into schools to audit the management of H&S. They also keep a close eye on risks such as asbestos and water hygiene and require schools to send in detailed accident reports. They inform unions of problems as a matter of course.

Academies may well not have any similar systems and even if they exist they are unlikely to be transparent.

Leicester CC offers H&S support to academies and free schools as a traded service and the majority of schools in the city make use of this, but whilst a nonmaintained school can be advised by the H&S team, they cannot be forced to act on the advice that they receive.

Across the country there have been a number of examples of serious breaches of H&S regulations caused by ignorance or complacency. A school in Chelmsford was fined £26,000 with £20,000 costs after poor asbestos management may have exposed staff to contamination. The last asbestos survey had taken place in 2004. Another school in Ipswich was unable to reopen after the summer holiday because building work revealed asbestos that had not been known about because there had not been a survey.

After a Worcester School was reprimanded by the HSE, because two 18 year old workers were found knocking down asbestos from a building, the school head showed shocking complacency by stating that, the only thing we didn't get right was that two of the young lads, 18 year old employees, were knocking it down from the roof so the asbestos was falling down, and stated that, no pupils or staff were at risk.

School leaders are not experts in H&S, people that want to open free schools even less so. Many of them subscribe to the view that H&S is not important in schools because they are not dangerous places. It was refreshing to hear a Leicester primary head state recently in a meeting that H&S, should be at the top of the agenda, but this attitude seems to be in the minority.

An academy will probably inherit a property that has been well maintained but this is not so in the case of free schools that can set up business almost anywhere.

A free school in Bournemouth attempted to move to premises that had previously been airport buildings, only to find that they were riddled with asbestos. Even then an Education Funding Agency project director advised them to proceed and not to tell parents about the asbestos, until building work revealed even more of it. The premises have now had to be demolished and rebuilt at reported cost of £35M.

Taking away LA responsibility for schools will effectively remove all reliable H&S monitoring. This, coupled with the rush to deregulate H&S that will gather pace should Brexit actually happen, could be a disaster for the health and wellbeing of school staff and children, that will have consequences for future generations.

 

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