Concern over asbestos in Sunderland schools

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CONCERNS over levels of asbestos in schools have been highlighted days before a Wearside MP meets the Education Minister to discuss the problem.

Part of Hetton School is closed off due to asbestos, disturbed when recent high winds disrupted tiles on the deteriorating building.

Last week, an education committee hearing looked at the issue of asbestos in schools for the first time amid claims 75 per cent of all schools in the UK have asbestos.

And tomorrow Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, will meet Education Minister David Laws MP to discuss delays to a multimillion-pound rebuild of Hetton School.

Work on the school has been put back until 2015 at the earliest, but Ms Phillipson is concerned the state of the building, including asbestos in the ceiling, is affecting staff and the education of pupils. Campaigners recently called for an audit of the condition and extent of asbestos in all Sunderland schools and colleges, as well as a national strategic asbestos plan to include mandatory training for all staff.

They also demanded a long-term phased removal of asbestos in all UK schools and colleges, with priority given to schools with asbestos in a dangerous condition.

Hetton School had been told it was entitled to a share of a multimillion-pound cash pot under the Government’s flagship Priority School Building programme.

But delays, revealed in the Echo earlier this year, mean its rebuild will not happen until 2015/16 at the earliest. Ms Phillipson said: “I can’t emphasise enough how urgently the situation requires action. The headteacher has told me the school building continues to deteriorate.

“Such clearly inadequate conditions damages the ability of teachers to educate young people.”

Councillor Pat Smith, portfolio holder for children’s services, Sunderland City Council, said: “A small number of schools in Sunderland were built when the use of such material was common practice. All schools in Sunderland are subject to regularly condition monitoring as required by the Health and Safety Executive and council policy. Any risks are immediately identified and dealt with.

“Sunderland City Council is committed to the safety of pupils, staff and all users of our school buildings.”