Thursday, November 30

Call for safety review of all Edinburgh schools after closures



Scotland’s largest teaching union has called for a review of all public-private partnership contracts in Scotland following the emergency closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh because of safety concerns, leaving 7,000 pupils unable to start the new term.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) questioned how construction of the schools, which are about 10 years old and were all built under the same PPP1 contract, was approved, resulting in the serious structural problems.

Larry Flanagan, the EIS general secretary, told Good Morning Scotland: “We’ve been long-term critics of these initiatives, largely because the main contracts have been a huge drain on school budgets.

“We are concerned to find there are major structural difficulties. There is a question mark around building controls and how they are applied. One question is about value for money in terms of how the work was done initially and then an ongoing question of the drain on budgets.”

Edinburgh city council has closed 10 primary schools, five secondaries, two additional support needs schools and a community centre from Monday morning.

No date has been set for reopening, and parents and teachers have already expressed their worry about secondary pupils, who are three weeks away from sitting important exams.

Edinburgh city council has said that, while contingency plans are being put in place, some schools will remain closed until the end of the week.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership, which built and manages the buildings, has apologised to parents and pupils, and promised to “accept full financial responsibility for investigating and resolving these issues”.

The education secretary, Angela Constance, told GMS: “The immediate priority is to ensure that everything is being done to support children. We will certainly need answers about what went wrong and why.

“There are, of course, big questions about PFI (private finance initiative) 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.”

Andrew Kerr, the chief executive of City of Edinburgh council, told Radio 4’s Today programme that he anticipated contingency plans for pupils would be in place by the end of Tuesday.

“We have had lots of offers from our partners – universities, other local authorities and the Scottish government – to help us find those alternatives so everyone in Edinburgh is pulling together to make sure that we alleviate this problem as much as we can,” he said.

Asked about the contracts, Kerr admitted it appeared the schools had not been built to the required standard.

“At this stage I’m not sure that anything went wrong with the public-private contract and until we are able to look at the investigations we can’t be exactly sure what the problem is in all 19 schools. However, it appears to be a constructor problem. In other words, the construction of the buildings has not been undertaken to the required standards.”