Full survey of city schools’ modesty walls

Members of the public lay flowers at the school sign. ''Picture: Neil Hanna
Members of the public lay flowers at the school sign. ''Picture: Neil Hanna
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A FULL survey of all modesty walls in changing rooms at schools across the city is to be carried out in the wake of the tragedy.

Specialist engineers will also pore over every inch of Liberton High before it is allowed to reopen in a bid to reassure parents and pupils of its safety.

The moves come amid calls for a major rethink of how the city council invests cash in repairs and maintenance at schools.

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Councillor Paul Godzik said: “As a parent, I, like parents across the city and across the country, am shocked and saddened by yesterday’s events. I would like to send my deepest sympathies to Keane’s family, friends and the whole school community.

“Our immediate priority as a Council is to support Keane’s family and the whole school community. I have visited the school today to meet staff and to ensure the immediate and ongoing support they and their pupils require is in place. I need to pay tribute to all the staff at Liberton High School for the professional way they have dealt with this dreadful incident and I would also like to thank the emergency services for their assistance.

“It is important we find out exactly what happened here and as a Council we are working closely with the Police and Health and Safety Executive as investigations continue. The Council is carrying out inspections today in all schools which may have similar walls and, if required, immediate action will be taken.”

Liberton High had been B-rated by the council, following an inspection, meaning it was deemed to be “performing adequately but showing minor deterioration” and required “significant levels of investment” to get the fabric of the building up to scratch.

It is understood up to £400,000 had been spent upgrading the building in recent years.

But last December it was added to a list of high schools in the city in need of “priority” work with a total bill expected to be well over £1 million.

A programme of works comprised of rewiring and new lighting within the main building and upgrading heating and improving water quality in the old gym was due to get under way later this year.

It would have seen heating and waterworks in the old gym spruced up – but there is no mention of reinforcement works to walls. Last December, we revealed how a £30 million cash pot has been set aside over the next five years to fix dilapidated Capital schools such as Liberton High, but a £50m black hole still exists to fully tackle the problem.

In total some 22 schools, nurseries and other children’s centres have been placed in the urgent priority queue.

They will share a range of expensive repairs from new roofing and ventilation to fire alarm upgrades and double glazing.

Since the council did not have enough money to carry out all the work, it adopted a “prioritisation” policy for investment in the years up to 2019 to ensure premises remained on a satisfactory condition.

Fifteen buildings were listed with a top priority A, including Wester Hailes Education Centre and Queensferry High School.

Liberton High was given a B priority along with Currie High and Trinity Academy.

Only 28.6 per cent of schools in the Capital have an A rating, compared to 43.2 per cent in Glasgow.

It was also decided to focus the funds available on roofs, external walls, windows, doors and mechanical and electrical services to keep buildings “operational”.

Lindsay Law, parent representative on the city council education committee, said it was time for action to address the crumbling school estate.

She described it as “tragic” an accident such as this has had to happen to draw “attention to a problem we have been raising for years”.

She said: “Every parent has the right to expect their child to be safe at school.

“The fact that the council needs to invest £30m just to bring them up to a reasonable standard shows the under investment that has occurred in recent years.

“What is worrying is that within every school in the city, apart from those newly built, parents will tell you stories about crumbling buildings and bits falling from roofs and ceilings.”

Liberton High, which has a roll of around 650 pupils and 60 staff, was opened in 1959 as the first in a series of new schools to accommodate children from the city’s outlying council estates.

Several extensions were added in the 1960s and 1970s as numbers grew. A programme of refurbishment began in 1986 with the upgrading of the PE department.

Council papers from May last year show a “building fabric upgrade” was needed at Liberton. A later report in December said upgrades were needed to rendering, cladding panels, wiring and heating, as well as mechanical improvements in the gym area.

Nick Cook, a Conservative councillor whose ward includes the school, said parents had contacted him about issues regarding the school buildings but never about this particular issue of an unstable wall in the changing rooms.

He said: “There were issues but nothing to raise alarm bells. Parents need to be reassured that their child is safe when attending school. It is just not acceptable that a daughter can go to school and not return.

“Serious questions need to be asked of how this has come about and a full investigation must be launched.”

One parent, whose 15-year-old son attends the school and who asked not to be named, said the tragedy was the latest in a “long line of incidents” at the school.

She said: “The school is a shambles. It’s shoddy and crumbly. There’s always bits coming away and things breaking.

“This is only the latest big incident, there was the young girl who fell down the lift shaft and a ceiling came down during a science lesson two or three years ago and now this.”

In February, the city council was fined £8000 after Morgan Seaton was seriously injured in a lift shaft fall at the school in December 2011. The then fourth-year pupil was 15 at the time.

Former council leader Donald Anderson, who has a 16-year-old son who attends the school, said he was unaware of any further incidents at the school, but remained hopeful that the facts would soon emerge.

He said: “This is a tragedy for a young life cruelly cut short, and everyone’s thoughts are with the parents and the family. But it is also tragic for the whole school community.

“Everyone will rightly want answers, and hopefully the facts can be established quickly and lessons learned. This is a strong community and I am sure people will pull together to help those affected through this most difficult 
period.”

Green education spokeswoman Councillor Melanie Main said: “There’s been a lot of discussion about school repairs in the last six months and the need for more investment in repair and maintenance.

“I am sure that there will be a big rethink as to how the council invests in our schools so that everyone can be confident that all our children are safe at school.

“I intend to raise this at the very first opportunity.”

A council spokesman said the thoughts of everyone were with the tragic youngster’s family and friends.

She said: “Senior education officers continue to support the pupils and staff.

“Police investigations are ongoing, however we understand that the wall that collapsed was a free standing modesty wall in a changing room.

“A full survey of all our schools, including Liberton High School, was carried out in 2012-13 and no concerns with this wall were identified. However, as a precaution, specialist council building services staff will be surveying all similar walls in schools where we know that they exist.

“The survey work will begin early today.

“As a further precaution, a full survey will be carried out on Liberton High School in the coming days before the main school building re-opens to pupils.

“Support for all pupils, plus tutorial support for S4 to S6 pupils, will be available in the school’s new games hall for the rest of this week.”

Analysis

By Cynthia McVey, Psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University

This is a dreadful and unthinkable tragedy because when children are at school there is an assumption of care, protection, safety and security, so it will have shocked everyone.

Obviously the children who knew her will be very shocked and anyone who witnessed it may be traumatised and there is also a possibility of post-traumatic stress. The children will need specialist help so I would expect the school to bring in clinical psychologists and educational psychologists to deal with the extreme end of this – those who were present.

Younger children can sometimes think it is something they have done which has caused a death so it’s important there are people around whom the children can voice their fears and thoughts to in a safe setting. They are often embarrassed in front of their peers and don’t want other people to see that they are distressed.

However, in this case, there is a commonality about the situation because they are all at school together, which should aid their grieving.

Children will experience the same stages of bereavement as adults, including shock and disbelief, anger that it has happened and search for reasons and explanations. When there is acceptance, it is then a matter of learning to live with the loss.

For children to be able to express their fears and sorrow in a safe environment with people who understand is important. The suddenness and unexpectedness of this will require particular care and I would imagine that the school and the teachers are doing absolutely everything they can, bearing in mind some of the staff may also be in shock and traumatised by this.

Given that they have already had a really sad experience of the sudden loss of another school pupil, they are likely to have systems in place already which might be very helpful at this time.

How Twitter reacted to the shock

FM Alex Salmond @AlexSalmond: Shocked and deeply saddened at news from Liberton High. Visited school in December – thoughts today with family, pupils and staff.

Grant Cunningham

@GrantCu7: Thoughts and sympathy goes out to the family and friends of Keane Bennett, tragic sending your child to school and never coming back!

Barcs :) @Aislinn Boyd: Hopefully rundown schools will get their act together. RIP Keane Bennett god only takes the best.

natalie ‏@_ohitsnatalie 44m: Schools need to stop worrying about pupils uniform and start making sure the school sites are safe. RIP Keane