Comment: A thorough inquiry into school closures is vital

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SOME 9000 school pupils in Edinburgh face chaos today after a decision to close 17 schools indefinitely on safety grounds.

The move – prompted by the discovery of faulty building work exposed by winter storm damage – could hardly have come at a worse time for pupils, parents and 
staff.

Ten primary schools, five secondaries and two additional support needs schools are affected, together with a neighbourhood centre.

The schools were due to reopen after the Easter break, but now the pupils have nowhere to go – and many are facing exams at the end of the month.

The closures have all the makings of a major scandal in the city – and beyond. The schools were built ten years ago under a Private Public Partnership contract. It is now feared all schools built under this contract could pose a safety risk to children and staff.

Scottish Government officials have written to all local authorities to ask them to carry out any necessary checks on their own estate as soon as possible.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership, which operates the buildings and which told the city council last week that the buildings were safe, has now apologised.

Trouble began at the end of January when high winds led to a wall collapsing at Oxgangs Primary and the school was closed. It was reopened – but closed again in mid-March after a safety inspection revealed problems with the way the wall was built. Days later, three more schools built under Public Private Partnership closed following safety inspections.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership says new problems came to light while remedial works were being carried out at Oxgangs and St Peter’s RC Primary.

“The standard of construction carried out by the building contractor”, it added, “is completely unacceptable and we are now undertaking full structural surveys to determine whether this issue is more widespread.”

Searching questions are now being asked over the standard of work undertaken, the issue of completion certificates for these buildings after inspection and the terms and conditions of maintenance contracts.

The ongoing maintenance burden of these contracts has long been a running sore for local authorities.

And today, with school budgets and the city’s budget under intense pressure, the need for value for money and buildings finished to the highest standard is greater than ever.

A thorough inquiry is now vital.