Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Thousands of Edinburgh pupils affected by school building closures

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Media captionInspections are being carried out at all the Edinburgh PPP schools

Fears over safety has forced the closure of 17 Edinburgh schools leaving 7,000 pupils unable to return to classrooms after the Easter break.

Following inspections, two high schools, Gracemount and Craigmount, have been found to have faults.

In all, 10 primaries, five secondaries and two additional support needs schools have been shut due to concern over the standard of construction.

They were all built under the same public private partnership contract.

Every Scottish council has either carried out or is now carrying out surveys of schools that could be affected.

Edinburgh Council's chief executive Andrew Kerr said he could not be sure when all pupils in and around the city would be allowed back.

He explained to BBC Scotland that some contingency plans would be in place in some schools by the end of Tuesday.

However, Mr Kerr added that;

  • inspections had been taking place and would continue to take place
  • exams for secondary pupils, due to begin in two weeks' time, would go ahead as scheduled
  • offers of help, including from universities and other local authorities, had been made
  • the Scottish Parliament, - where daily business has been suspended for the Holyrood election - has also offered to accommodate schoolchildren

Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, has called for a review of all PPP contracts in Scotland, questioning how such significant faults could escape building control scrutiny.

The schools which have been affected were all built by Miller Construction, which was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014.


Glasgow City Council said more surveys would be carried out in its schools next week. However, it had been given "verbal assurances" that nothing so far had been found. A spokeswoman said schools would be open as normal on Monday, 18 April.

Inverclyde Council said it would be carrying out "urgent inspections" of four schools built by Miller between 2009 and 2011. A spokesman said the council did not believe the surveys would uncover concerns and it expected schools to be open as expected on Tuesday, 19 April.

Fife Council said further inspections would be carried out but initial surveys during the Easter holidays did not unearth problems. All schools in Fife opened as schedule on Monday.


How old are the schools?

The country's Education Secretary Angela Constance told BBC Scotland that answers were needed as to what went wrong and why.

The closure of the schools, which are about 10 years old, was prompted after workers repairing serious structural issues at one city primary found "further serious defects" with the building on Friday.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which operates the schools, could not provide safety assurances.

Edinburgh school closures

What's affected?

17

Total number shut

  • 7,000 Pupil numbers

  • 10 Primaries

  • 5 Secondaries

  • 2 Additional support needs

PA

Council official Mr Kerr said: "We were unable to have the time to put contingency arrangements in place to ensure pupils could continue their education."

He added that the health and safety of pupils was the priority, along with ensuring the right arrangements were in place for parents and pupils.

Mr Kerr said: "We expect some parts of some schools to be considered for re-opening this week.

The council said it hoped to have more information for parents on Tuesday and would be keeping them informed through its website.

Priority will be given to helping students with special needs and those due to start their exams in a few weeks' time.

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Media captionAndrew Kerr, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Council, says the safety of pupils is of paramount importance

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan called for a review of all PPP and similar private finance initiative (PFI) deals.

He said: "The EIS welcomes that the safety of pupils and staff is being treated as a priority, while recognising that these short-notice closures will be highly inconvenient for pupils and parents.

"However, we must also question how such significant defaults could escape normal building control scrutiny and we believe it is now necessary for an urgent review of all PPP/PFI contracts, including the terms of the private maintenance contracts which are often both expensive and extremely restrictive."

'Deeply concerning'

Ms Constance told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The situation is deeply concerning. I want to reassure parents that the safety of pupils is paramount.

"The Scottish government expects all local authorities to exercise their duties in the provision of education in a safe environment.

"The immediate priority is to ensure that everything is being done to support children."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Concerns were first raised by the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary School

She added: "We will certainly need answers about what went wrong and why.

"There are, of course, big questions about PFI contracts. It's no secret that this government has long-standing concern but I've no doubt that when parliament reconvenes in three or four weeks' time that there will be renewed interest in this area."

The Scottish government has asked all councils across Scotland to conduct "any necessary checks" on their own buildings and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired an emergency meeting of the government's resilience committee on Saturday.

What are parents and pupils saying?

Lindsay Cairns' daughter is in primary one at Oxgangs Primary School.

She said: "I don't know if I'm going to have to have time off next week to look after her.

"I've spoken to my manager. We have to wait and see what the council are going to come back with.

"I'd like to think there's going to be an update and a contingency plan put in place but to me I'd rather have had that contingency plan before now."

Image caption The Bhandari family are being affected by the closure of schools due to safety fears

Rachel Bhandari's son is nine years old and has cerebral palsy. His special school is closed until further notice.

She and her husband have spent the weekend trying to organise childcare as they both work.

Ms Bhandari said: "It presents us with a really big difficulty really. We were expecting the school to be open.

"We were told earlier in the week that it was going to be open and then just to find out on Friday that it's not is a nightmare."

The problems were first uncovered in January when a wall at Oxgangs Primary collapsed during high winds.

Three other schools were later closed after inspections revealed problems with the way walls had been built.

Image caption Amy is a pupil at Firrhill High School

Amy, 16, a pupil at Firrhill High School, told BBC Scotland: "It's quite disruptive because we need to finish the coursework and we need to do unit assessments, and they were meant to be happening this week but now they'll have to be done later.

"It's been open for 10 years, the part of the building that was built, and it hasn't fallen down yet. There's no storm just now. Nothing's going to happen."

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