Leader comment: School checks should all have been done by now

A collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh prompted inspections across the country - but a year later, not all have been completed.
A collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh prompted inspections across the country - but a year later, not all have been completed.
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It has been revealed that there are 71 schools which have defects similar to that of an Edinburgh school which saw a wall collapse last year.

We know that these schools, spread across 15 council areas, have identified defects - six of which have not yet been resolved - but, worryingly, we have no idea how many remaining have not been found.

Out of Scotland’s 32 councils, eleven have not yet carried out “intrusive surveys” of schools which were built under similar conditions to pinpoint if there are any structural problems.

This is a serious concern.

Nine tonnes of bricks were blown down from a wall at Oxgangs Primary school in Edinburgh in January 2016 during Storm Gertude. It was lucky that no children were killed or seriously injured.

If they had been, blame could not at that time, have lain with the local authorities which had no knowledge that the school built under the public-private partnership (PPP) had such problems with wall and header ties, which hold walls together and were found to be the root of the problem.

Now, they - and the Scottish Government - have no excuse.

It is known that these problems could exist - and by standing back and doing nothing, the authorities are risking blatant negligence. It is reassuring to hear that the construction methods used to build schools has changed and that no new school built will have similar defects, but that does not help the thousands of pupils attending institutions constructed under PPP.

We cannot have children in situations where, given the right weather conditions, they could be in serious danger.

On a less serious, but no less important, note, the Edinburgh schools incident meant that a total of nine schools were closed for weeks, causing widespread disruption to parents and pupils - and their education - across the city.

This cannot happen again, not now that we know there is the potential for problems. Work needs to be carried out in a careful and controlled way, and pupils’ security and safety needs to be put at the heart of any action taken.

In a separate, but equally important, issue, claims have been made that there could be similar problems at other buildings constructed under PPP schemes such as hospitals and care homes.

Checks need to be carried out before another accident can happen, anywhere.

The EIS Scotland teaching union has described the new figures as a “stark warning”. They are.

Yet the government, which is responsible for PPP projects through its The Scottish Futures Trust arm, appears to have passed over responsibility to local authorities.

Education secretary John Swinney has insisted today that the Scottish Government has given guidance to councils over what they should do - but he has to go further.

Delay is too big a risk to take.