Whilst Government administrations come and go, and the latest schools system and curriculum initiatives unveiled with new layers of management put into place, the actual fabric of the buildings are consistently ignored, where an ageing nemesis lies in wait, ready to inflict more damage than an ill-conceived educational policy might sustain.
Despite protestations to the contrary, many schools in the UK still contain hidden asbestos, exposure to which, has led to countless examples of teachers and pupils who contracted asbestosis or mesothelioma and later sought to claim asbestos compensation.
Lack of asbestos awareness, plus usage as cheap construction material, meant that fourteen thousand schools were built between1945 and 1975, and many others were refurbished, using large quantities of chrysotile (white), amosite (brown) and crocidolite ( blue), the major forms of asbestos.
There is still white asbestos to be found in the schools to this day, often severly deteriorated and damaged over the many years. Lack of funding has meant that neither the school buildings nor the asbestos have been properly maintained, but simply ‘managed’, if at all.
Despite the Department for Education being warned in 1967 that very low levels of asbestos exposure could still cause mesothelioma and children were most at risk, asbestos continued to be used as the school building programme continued unchanged.
As recently as the 1980s, rapidly deteriorating schools which were tested showed that dangerous levels of amosite (brown) were released into classrooms from just hitting a wall or slamming a door. Requests by The National Union of Teachers for a national audit of all asbestos in schools were refused, with confidential documents revealing that the Government were concerned to maintain secrecy on the extent of the problem because of the huge costs involved in removal.
The inevitable result was that teachers, support staff and former pupils continued to be exposed and then died of mesothelioma, as witnessed by the increasing numbers of mesthelioma claims being brought.
Today, the situation has improved as Government is under pressure to act from an Asbestos in Schools Group formed of teachers, support staff, teaching unions, asbestos consultants, doctors, solicitors, MPs, victims and the families of those who have died.
The Department for Schools acknowledges the seriousness of the issue and now accept that there will have to be an assessment of the standards of asbestos management in all schools, the ultimate aim being the removal of all asbestos from schools.