Michael Lees of the Asbestos in Schools (AiS) campaign has warned that the growth and popularity of free schools could expose teachers and pupils to health risks from poor asbestos management, unless the Government provides better asbestos training for governors and teachers.
A new Department for Education website has been designed to address this lack of training and awareness of asbestos in schools. However funding issues have been highlighted even before launch. The £20,000 funding allocated to support the training website is set to last less than a year with uncertainty over future funding.
Michael Lees said the new training facility was a good move but needed to be properly funded. He thought it should be mandatory for school governors and head teachers to be properly trained in asbestos management and that more resources should be deployed to improve awareness of asbestos among all teachers and school staff.
HSE official enforcement figures which run from November 2010 to June 2011, show that 164 independent, voluntary-aided and foundation schools and academies were inspected over the period. A total of 41 Improvement Notices were served on 28 schools, with a further 110 given informal advice.
The inspections followed an earlier HSE initiative directed at local authority-managed schools, which resulted in 38 Improvement Notices being issued for similar asbestos failings.
Lees said that in free schools and some academies most parents and governors did not have the training and experience to manage asbestos, but were required to take on the legal and practical asbestos management responsibilities. He said that unless training is made mandatory for governors, headteachers and all staff, the problem would inevitably worsen over the coming years.