School closures: Faulty schools could be shut until summer

Gracemount High is among the schools being examined for structural faults. Picture: Toby Williams
Gracemount High is among the schools being examined for structural faults. Picture: Toby Williams
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Structural faults have been ­discovered in all 17 schools at the centre of Edinburgh’s building ­safety scare – and some could remain shut until the summer.

Full checks have not yet been completed at all the sites, but sources ­confirmed building defects have been identified at each of the ten primaries, five high schools and two special schools affected.

The seriousness of the faults varies from school to school and while some could reopen relatively quickly, others need more extensive repairs and could be closed for the rest of the term.

The emergency closure of the schools, all built or refurbished under a controversial Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme, came after a contractor carrying out repairs at Oxgangs and St Peter’s primaries warned of missing header ties – structural fixings that attach the top of a wall to the wider building.

Inspections found the same fault at Gracemount and Craigmount high schools. Now similar problems have been uncovered in all the buildings.

Green councillor Gavin Corbett said: “My understanding is that all 17 schools have issues about their construction to some extent but that the scale of those problems and the consequences vary school to school.

“This might mean that some schools are safe to reoccupy fairly quickly but, at worst, it could be a number of weeks before they get the all-clear.

“For those schools facing the longest timescale for work, absolute ­priority must be given to all young people getting other classroom space, in other schools or in other appropriate buildings. While a few days out of school is recoverable, it’s just not acceptable for that to stretch into weeks.”

A source said in some cases it was wall ties which were missing and these could be inserted working from the outside, potentially allowing pupils to return to the school and fencing off parts of the building while work was carried out.

In cases where header ties have to be installed, both internal and external access is needed, meaning more extensive work and a longer closure.

The source said: “For some schools it’s going to be the summer. Some of them might be closed until August.”

It is understood the Edinburgh Schools Partnership – the private consortium, including Miller Construction and Bank of Scotland, which built the schools – is using three separate engineering firms to carry out the checks, along with a city council structural engineer. They will also report what remedial work they believe is necessary in each school.

The saga began in January when part of a wall at Oxgangs Primary blew down during Storm Gertrude. In March, Oxgangs and three other schools were closed for safety checks. Council chiefs were assured last week that the schools could reopen on Monday after the Easter holiday, but late on Friday they learned a new fault – the header ties – had been found, and all 17 schools covered by the PPP1 contract, plus Howdenhall Children’s Unit and Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre, were shut indefinitely.

Updating councillors on Tuesday, council chief executive Andrew Kerr told the corporate policy and strategy committee: “We are finding some new information every hour as we go through the list of engineering problems we appear to have in schools. We are finding similar issues in the schools we are surveying.”

Conservative councillor Jason Rust said parents should be given as much information as possible about the evolving schools situation.

He said: “People need to be able to make childcare arrangements and whether children will be travelling to other locations – that all takes time and has to be factored into weekday life.

“As soon as information is available, the council should put it into the public domain. If it’s bad news, it’s better that it’s known.”

The council said the prospect of schools being closed until the summer was “speculation” at this stage. A spokesman said: “Edinburgh Schools Partnership are continuing with their programme of inspections and will report back with results in due course.”

All practical exams due to take place in the affected high schools this week have been postponed. The council announced the move, which mainly affects modern language oral exams, as it detailed arrangements for more pupils to return to classes. The majority of the 2,000 pupils preparing for exams at the five high schools affected resumed lessons yesterday.

And with more returning today, the council said a total of 4,400 pupils of 7,700 affected will be back in education, even if it is not in their own school.

Council leader Andrew Burns said: “Having rightly prioritised arrangements for those children taking examinations in the coming weeks, the two special schools were next to be addressed and I’m pleased that these are now in place. I want to pay credit to the chief executive and his team for their work since Friday on what has been a huge logistical challenge for the council.

“We have now put in place alternative education arrangements for the majority of pupils, and work continues to identify alternative options for other primary and S1 to S3 pupils. We will communicate to parents as soon as we have further information.”

He also thanked the various organisations, both public and private sector, which had come forward with offers of help and accommodation.

The council said all affected primary and special school pupils should be allocated new school places by Tuesday.