SNP accused of refusing calls for school building checks

THE Scottish Government has been accused of having 'washed its hands' on school safety, with Tories claiming the SNP three times refused their call for school inspectors to include building standards in their reports.

Monday, 11th April 2016, 12:28 pm
Updated Monday, 11th April 2016, 9:44 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Julie Bull

Liz Smith, the Conservative spokeswoman for young people, said she had first pressed Holyrood ministers on the issue almost two years ago, in June 2014.

She went on to ask Learning Minister Alasdair Allan again about whether Education Scotland should look at the state of school buildings in its inspection reports in December 2014 and May 2015.

But he told her local councils are “best placed to assess the condition of schools”.

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Liz Smith said she had first pressed Holyrood ministers on the issue almost two years ago. Picture: Walter Neilson

Ms Smith was speaking after bosses at Edinburgh City Council were forced to close 17 schools in the capital indefinitely after concerns arose about the standard of construction in the buildings, which were all built under the same public private partnership (PPP) contract.

Education Secretary Angela Constance told BBC Scotland that the situation is “deeply concerning” as she stressed the “safety of pupils is paramount”.

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Ms Constance said: “The Scottish Government expects all local authorities to exercise their duties in the provision of education in a safe environment.

Liz Smith said she had first pressed Holyrood ministers on the issue almost two years ago. Picture: Walter Neilson

‘’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.”

With more than 7,000 pupils affected by the closures, Ms Smith said: “I raised this issue in parliament two years ago on account of the concerns raised by parents and by some local authorities.

“I did so for two reasons. Firstly, it is vitally important that our schools are safe - something every parent and teacher quite rightly expects.

“But secondly because there is strong evidence that the quality of learning improves when buildings and the surrounding campus provide a secure, modern learning environment.

“At the time, the Scottish Government paid lip service to my proposal, but in the intervening time it has washed its hands of it.

“Now, following the very serious issue which has emerged in Edinburgh, the SNP must have an urgent change of mind. The educational future of pupils is at stake.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “It’s unprecedented to have so many schools closed down at once, and at such a critical exam time for students. This demonstrates the seriousness of the situation.

“We made perfectly reasonable and constructive suggestions on how such situations could be prevented, but the SNP did nothing.

“Now councils are being forced to hastily close the school gates when many pupils are preparing to sit potentially life-changing exams.

“The SNP must explain why it ignored our calls, and say what it plans to do to stop a repeat across other school areas.”