Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh schools: Why are they closed?

Oxgangs Primary School Image copyright PA
Image caption Concerns were first raised when a wall collapsed at Oxgangs Primary School during high winds in January

Seventeen schools in Edinburgh have been closed indefinitely over safety concerns - leaving more than 7,000 pupils and their parents in limbo until alternative arrangements are put in place.

Here's a look at what has caused the closures and what is being done to get the schools open again.

What is the problem?

The first sign that something was wrong came in January, when hundreds of bricks were blown from a wall at Oxgangs Primary School during Storm Gertrude.

The school reopened after a few days - but was closed again in March when an inspection revealed serious concerns about the way the external wall had been constructed when the school was built 10 years ago.

Oxgangs was part of a wider programme that saw 17 schools built or refurbished following a £360m deal between the council and a private finance consortium under the Public Private Partnership 1 (PPP1) scheme.

Days later, a further three schools - St Peter's RC Primary, Firrhill High and Braidburn Special Schools - were also closed after being deemed to be unsafe for pupils.

The schools had all been built by Miller Construction, which was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014, under the PPP1 project.

It had been hoped the schools would reopen after the Easter holiday - but structural engineers found "further serious defects" during remedial work at Oxgangs Primary on Friday 8 April.

The new safety concerns were related to an absence of header ties in the steel structure, so were in addition to the original concerns over external walls.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which oversaw the construction of the buildings and now manages them on behalf of the council, said it was was unable to give assurances that buildings built under PPP1 were safe.

This led to the City of Edinburgh Council announcing that 10 primary schools, five secondaries, two additional support needs schools and the Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre would all be closed indefinitely.

Not all of the schools were fully built under PPP1, so it may be possible to part open some of them.

Which schools are affected?

Image caption Inspections are being carried out by surveyors at schools across the city

The closed schools are: Braidburn School, Broomhouse Primary, Castleview Primary, Craigour Park Primary, Craigmount High, Craigroyston Primary, Drummond Community High, Firrhill High, Forthview Primary, Gracemount High, Oxgangs Primary School, Pirniehill Primary, Rowanfield, Royal High, St David's Primary, St Joseph's Primary and St Peter's RC Primary.

How long will they remain closed for?

According to the council, it is too early to say. ESP is carrying out detailed structural surveys at all of the schools, and it is hoped that the majority of these will be complete by the end of the week.

Parents have been urged to make alternative childcare arrangements for the coming week, with the council pledging to provide daily updates on the progress that is being made.

Its chief executive, Andrew Kerr, told BBC Scotland on Monday morning that the same engineering problem had been discovered in all of the buildings that had been looked at so far.

He also said he expected "some parts of some schools" to be considered for re-opening later this week.

What about pupils who are due to sit exams?

Image copyright AP

Mr Kerr said he was "very confident" that exams for S4, S5 and S6 pupils that are due to begin early next month would not be affected by the closures, with contingency arrangements and alternative plans being put in place.

The council has also said it will be prioritising secondary schools to ensure that students can prepare for their exams.

Organisations across the city, including Edinburgh University and the Scottish Parliament, have offered to accommodate pupils whose schools are closed.

However, there are bound to be concerns over the potential loss of time in school with a teacher so close to the exams.

What has the Edinburgh Schools Partnership said?

In a letter to the council on 5 April, ESP said that the PPP1 buildings were "safe for occupancy".

However, it changed this advice just three days later after the fresh structural issues were identified at Oxgangs.

ESP has apologised and said it would accept "full financial responsibility" for the problems.

It admitted that the standard of construction carried out by the building contractor was "completely unacceptable" and confirmed that full structural surveys were being carried out to "determine whether the issue was more widespread".

Is this problem confined to Edinburgh?

On 29 March, it was announced that schools built by Miller Construction in Glasgow, Fife and Inverclyde would also be be surveyed as a "a precautionary measure".

Fife Council has since said it has found no structural issues, and all of its schools opened as planned on Monday following the Easter holidays.

Schools in Inverclyde and Glasgow are still on holiday and are not due to return until next week.

Glasgow City Council said its PPP contractor had so far found nothing of concern, but more surveys would be carried out.

Inverclyde has also said checks would be carried out on the five schools built or refurbished by Miller in its area before pupils returned.

There have been calls for a review of all PPP contracts in Scotland, with questions being asked about how such major faults could be missed by building control scrutiny.

The Scottish government said it had long-standing concerns about the use of private finance initiatives (PFI), and has called for answers about what has gone wrong and why.

PFI was favoured by the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration at Holyrood for funding big building projects, but was scrapped by the SNP when it came to power in 2007 and the alternative Scottish Futures Trust was established.

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

Ms Sturgeon has told the BBC that there is a case for a "longer term inquiry" into the construction of the Edinburgh schools, and she was "very concerned" that the building faults had gone undetected for ten years.

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