IT WAS supposed to herald a new era in Scottish education. Rosshall Academy rose from the ashes of two crumbling secondary schools, one of the first examples of how private finance could breathe new life into state education.
But just a year after opening its doors the Glasgow school is at the centre of an investigation into "sick building syndrome".
Staff say their health is suffering because classrooms in the new school are too small and ventilation is so poor they have little choice but to break safety rules by wedging fire doors open.
Glasgow City Council and 3ED, the private company that built the Crookston school, are testing air quality following complaints from teachers that they are suffering from headaches, eye problems and other ailments.
Scotland on Sunday can also reveal that 3ED is conducting tests at another five schools in the city that it built or refurbished over possible ventilation problems.
The country’s biggest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, is conducting a survey of all 380 secondary and primary schools built or refurbished under the public-private-partnership (PPP) arrangement.
Glasgow City Council’s investigation was sparked by repeated complaints from staff at the 13m Rosshall Academy, which opened last June, and caters for 1,275 pupils and 90 staff. It replaced two secondaries, Penilee and Crookston.
But teachers at Rosshall have suffered a range of illnesses including headaches, throat problems and eye conditions such as conjunctivitis. Doctors and opticians consulted by staff have blamed the illnesses on the environmental conditions at the showpiece school.
Barry Carmichael, a Rosshall science teacher and school representative for the EIS, said: "From our perspective there is no doubt we are experiencing the kind of problems associated with sick building syndrome."
He said at least six of his colleagues had been told by their doctors that their complaints were linked to their working conditions. And he pinned the blame on the fact that the new school’s classrooms are far smaller than those in the school it replaced.
He claimed the city council and the developers jointly cut the average classroom size to keep the construction costs down while the school was expected to accommodate the same number of pupils as before. Carmichael said his science lab at the 1,275 pupil school was at least 25% smaller than his old classroom.
"My own room is down from 90 to 70 square metres, and the ceilings have been lowered, from 3.7m high to just 2.7m high," he said.
"I have got four windows, which are much smaller than I had before, and they are all on the same side of the classroom. In the past I had windows that opened on different sides, so I had currents of air drawn through the classroom. That just doesn’t happen here."
Carmichael said the result was that the air in his classroom had a high proportion of carbon dioxide making teachers and pupils feeling drowsy and inattentive.
Professor Derek Clements-Croome, an expert in sick building syndrome from Reading University, said Rosshall appeared to fit the general profile of "unhealthy" buildings.
"Hot air rises, so generally in normal classrooms, the heat and any pollutants in the air will rise above the head of a class. Lowering the ceiling height means anyone standing up will find their nose and mouth at exactly the level where this fog of carbon dioxide can be found," he said.
3ED was handed a 1.2bn contract to rebuild or refurbish all Glasgow’s 29 secondary schools, and maintain them for 30 years. It has so far rebuilt 11 secondary schools, including Rosshall, and confirmed the other schools were constructed along similar lines to the troubled secondary.
The first PPP schools deals, including Glasgow’s initiative, were announced in 1998. The Scottish Executive has ploughed a further 2bn into ongoing schemes involving 24 councils.
SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop, shadow education minister, will now ask the Holyrood education committee, meeting on Wednesday, to look at PPP deals after the revelations.
Hyslop said: "PPP schools are built for profit and not for pupils. If this can happen in Glasgow, then there must be a chance it is happening elsewhere. Glasgow schools must be improved and other councils must ensure their new schools avoid these problems."
Joe Linney, a spokesman for 3ED, confirmed the schools only had air conditioning systems in computer rooms.
"We agreed the specifications for schools with the council and they agreed we should have air conditioning only in specific places and natural ventilation elsewhere," he said.
But Linney denied Rosehall suffered from "sick building syndrome". Asked what he thought was causing staff illness, he said: "I don’t have any evidence at all in terms of the number of complaints to suggest there is any kind of a sick building problem in Glasgow schools."
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said its environmental protection services were testing air quality and humidity levels at Rosshall. The results of the tests are expected by the end of the month.
She added: "3ED is also responding to concerns regarding temperatures at five other secondary schools." The other schools are new builds Springburn Academy, St Mungo’s Academy, and Drumchapel High and refurbished schools Holyrood Secondary and Hillpark Secondary.
The Scottish Executive is spending over 2.4bn on controversial private finance initiative deals to allow councils to build hundreds of new schools.
Under the deals, private companies design, build and maintain the schools under the terms of contracts specified by the councils. The councils then pay the private companies an annual rent to use the new facilities.
But critics allege private companies’ need to make profits may lead to compromises that would be unnecessary if the schools were built by the state.