Safety fears to shut 17 Edinburgh schools

SAFETY fears have led to the sudden closure of 17 Edinburgh schools from Monday, sparking urgent demands for answers and leaving parents with a childcare nightmare.

The damage at Oxgangs Primary. Picture: Toby Williams

Five high schools are among those which will shut following the decision late on Friday which may also mean thousands of pupils missing lessons in the final few weeks before this year’s exams.

The move comes after new construction issues were discovered in schools which were built or refurbished under the public private partnership (PPP) 1 agreement. Officials said they acted after Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which built and manages the schools, was unable to give safety guarantees.

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The council said “contingency arrangements” were being considered but said parents “should consider childcare

arrangements for next week”.

Council leader Andrew Burns said they had been left with no choice but to take the drastic action and blamed ESP for letting the “council, children, parents and staff of this city down”.

“Clearly we have every right to expect these schools to have been built to a good standard and in accordance with industry practice. We now know this isn’t the case.

“We have today alerted the Scottish Government to our concerns.

“The safety of children and our staff is our top priority and we’re simply not willing to take any risks. As such we have no option but to close these schools and Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre.

“We fully recognise the significant inconvenience to parents caused by these closures.”

Structural problems were first discovered after part of a wall blew off Oxgangs Primary during Storm Gertrude in January.

The school was closed in March after an investigation found problems with the walls. Three more schools, all part of the same PPP1 contract, closed less than a week later.

Issues had been identified with the width of their wall cavities and the structures installed to maintain the stability of masonry. ESP had assured the council that all schools would reopen as normal following the Easter Holidays.

But it is understood that a contractor carrying out repairs at St Peter’s and Oxgangs warned on Friday that its staff had discovered further serious defects and said the two schools were no longer safe to occupy.

Following this, ESP told council officials it could not confirm whether or not the faults existed at other sites, leading to the decision to close all 17 PPP1 schools and Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre.

The Evening News has also learned that an engineer’s probe into the original collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary has concluded the incident was due to “poor quality workmanship”.

The council has said that families would be updated on Monday, but it was unable to say when schools would reopen or when alternative arrangements would be put in place.

The closures include campuses, such as Drummond Community High, which were refurbished under PPP1 agreements.

One father at the Royal High, one of the affected sites, said: “It beggars belief that the school was not built properly and up to the standard required – who was to blame for that?

“We demand answers as to who is to blame for this. There are pupils coming up to their exams. It’s a huge concern for parents of children who have got important exams coming up in the next few weeks.

“And finding out like this at the end of the holiday is very short notice – what are working parents supposed to do?”

Luke McCullough, chair of the Royal High parent council, said: “If the local authority is making arrangements for those sittings exams, with Highers and Nationals less than four weeks away, they need to make those arrangements fast.

“And it’s not just exams – for a number of subjects, our young people have folio deadlines and modern languages practicals due this coming week.”

Oxgangs councillor Jason Rust said: “This latest news is hugely frustrating for parents, pupils and staff.

“I am deeply concerned that there are yet further issues and answers are needed as soon as possible given the schools were as of yesterday anticipated to reopen.”