Pressure is growing on local authorities and the government to do more in removing asbestos from schools.

Now campaigners say that because there is a lack of uniformity in dealing with asbestos exposure in schools and academies means that students and staff are being put at risk.

The calls are led by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) which wants to make all colleges and schools free from it.

The committee says that around 90% of schools contain asbestos and every year 17 teaching staff will die from mesothelioma, which is a cancer caused by exposure to the material.

The committee has carried out a Freedom of Information exercise and found that asbestos is present in 1,863 academies.

54 incidents of exposure had been reported

Of those academies who responded, they revealed that 54 incidents of exposure had been reported usually because the material was unexpectedly uncovered.

Among the incidents, teaching staff have found the material underneath a classroom carpet, in the ceiling of an IT suite and when repairmen were fixing a pipe in a library.

However, despite having 54 reported exposures, just five academy trusts said they had received a prohibition or improvement notice from the Health and Safety Executive.

The committee also says that some trust do not have an asbestos management plan, which is required by law, and many admitted that they did not audit their management plan annually.

Now John McLean, the chair of JUAC, said the time has come for a central database to be compiled of the condition and location of the material in all schools.

‘The policy of managing asbestos has failed in schools’

He said: “The information confirms that the policy of managing asbestos has failed in schools. There is no conformity in how trusts manage their asbestos and no standard procedures to follow when a school transfers to Academy trusts.”

The committee says the government needs to tackle the issue in schools in a variety of ways including the phased removal of the material from premises and the creation of a database.

Rachel Reeves, a Labour MP and chair of the Asbestos in Schools Group, said that children and teaching staff are being put at risk.

She added: “The government needs a clear strategy for ensuring that any potential exposure to asbestos is minimal and that pupils and staff are kept safe.”

Treasury needs to increase funding to tackle the problem

The general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, says the Treasury needs to increase funding to tackle the problem in schools.

He said: “Asbestos is known as the ‘silent killer’ and these findings make for shocking reading.

“In 2018 the life of a pupil, teacher or support staff should not be threatened from this malignant and insidious presence.”

It is believed that the material is present in most schools that were built between 1950 and 2000 and over seven decades, around 40,000 people in the UK have died as a result of exposure to it.

Also, the Department for Education says that its figures highlight that several thousand schools do not follow safety guidelines.

In 2016, the department carried out a survey of 5,500 schools and found that:

  • Four out five schools have it
  • One in five schools do not comply with asbestos procedures
  • 114 schools gave ‘significant cause for concern’.