Edinburgh council fails to carry out works at Liberton High

COUNCIL bosses failed to carry out promised maintenance works over the summer holidays at the school where a 12-year-old girl died when a wall fell on her four years ago.

Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 8:07 am
Updated Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 8:15 am
Liberton High School. Picture: Greg Macvean
Liberton High School. Picture: Greg Macvean

Parents at Liberton High School are now accusing the authority of a lack of responsibility “bordering on negligence” and said their concerns about the condition of the building had now reached “crisis point”.

Keane Wallis-Bennett was killed when a free-standing “modesty” wall in the old PE block at the school collapsed on April 1, 2014 as she was getting ready for a lesson with her friends.

In April this year, there was a safety scare when a ceiling tile in the school foyer fell, narrowly missing a pupil.

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Keane Wallis-Bennett.

And the following month, three intruders – at least one of them armed – got into the school grounds and attempted to gain access to the main building. They were only halted by the intervention of PE teachers.

Works which were due to be carried out during the summer holidays included replacing ceiling tiles and installation of additional security.

But when staff and pupils returned for the new session they found nothing had been done.

Derek McNeill, chair of the school’s parent council, said the situation was “unacceptable”.

In a stinging letter to councillors, he said: “It is deeply worrying to discover the essential building maintenance works promised over the summer have simply not happened.

“A senior manager Clerk of Works was promised to be based in school to oversee the quality assurance of the backlog of 145 maintenance issues. This was to ensure there was no more poor workmanship.

“The other critical work to be forwarded were new security measures following the armed intruder incident.

“Not only was nothing done but no attempt was made to inform us or the school that these works would not proceed and no attempt has been made to agree a new timetable and completion date.

“This lack of communication provides further evidence to us that once again the council is not taking our safety, welfare and mental health seriously enough.”

Mr McNeill said in a hurried last-minute attempt to complete the replacement of ceiling tiles in the area where the “near miss” had happened, the first day of the new school year began with the main door cordoned off.

“What impression is that for our new parents and pupils walking up the drive?” he asked. “For those returning pupils it’s a realisation that once again their education will be interrupted by maintenance works during term time.”

Mr McNeill said as well as maintenance works, the parent council was promised additional building security following the experience with the intruders. “This was a serious incident, a security review took place, suggestions for corrective action were made: yet nothing happened. Why? This is unacceptable. We demand answers to this very serious issue.”

And he underlined how persistent problems with the building affected school life.

“We have a dedicated team of staff and a headteacher who spends inordinate amounts of time dealing with sick-building management issues rather than investing their time doing what they are employed to do – teach our kids. This sick-building takes a huge toll on the wellbeing and mental health of staff, parents and pupils alike. Every day, at every turn, influencing every decision is a sick-building and inadequate facilities.”

Mr McNeill said Liberton pupils could see other schools across the city benefiting from state-of-the-art new buildings and wondered why they were expected to put up with a building which was “clearly sub-standard”.

He told the councillors: “The inability to carry out essential building maintenance works and essential security measures over the summer is a crystal clear indicator to all at Liberton High School our safety, health/mental health and wellbeing, education and rights are not your priority. A lack of responsibility for those in your care bordering on negligence.

“We have been patient, and have, where asked, waited for the council to take action – especially around the building after the fatal accident. We have at all times been concerned with the sensitivities of Keane’s memory.

“However, given the growing concerns of the parent forum, pupils and staff around the condition of the building this will no longer be the case. We cannot permit anything else to happen to any more of our pupils. This matter has now reached a crisis point.

“We need a clear action plan and strategy, put in place immediately, to deal with the issues at Liberton and we will not be ignored or neglected any longer.”

Liberton Conservative councillor Stephanie Smith said: “I’m so disappointed and frustrated the work has not been done. It is completely unacceptable and we have to get to the bottom of why it has not been done. We need to get a schedule of action and it must be adhered to. The safety of children in school is of paramount importance and there can be no more excuses.”

She said she would be demanding answers on the issue at the next full council meeting.

A council spokesman said: “We have apologised for the inability to complete the full extent of works planned at Liberton High School over the summer break.

“Work is continuing to be delivered during term time with the full involvement of the school, as part of the significant additional investment the council has set aside for its operational school estate. This will continue well beyond school break periods. An additional meeting has been arranged with the school to confirm the maintenance priorities which will include current and future security measures.”