Teachers tell of safety fears after Edinburgh school closures

A collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School/
A collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School/
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Headteachers are fearful for the safety of their pupils in the aftermath of the scandal which saw 17 schools closed in Edinburgh over building defects, MSPs heard on Wednesday.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, admitted he was “quite scared” about the shock findings of an inquiry by Professor John Cole into the situation. It unveiled a catalogue of failings in the construction methods of new schools which is likely to stretch well beyond the capital.

Oxgangs Primary School was one of 17 schools closed in the city due to safety concerns.

Oxgangs Primary School was one of 17 schools closed in the city due to safety concerns.

“All the way through Professor Cole’s report there is nothing there to give me confidence across the country,” Mr Thewliss told Holyrood’s education committee yesterday.

“There’s an expectation from parents, there an expectation from communities out there that young people are sent to school to educated in a safe environment.

“What else exists out there in relation to the safety in which we’re educating our young people? There’s a huge question to be asked round about that. Whether the roof is secure enough to stay on? Are the fire procedures in schools sufficient to stop a fire? You can go on down that line.”

The alarm was initially raised after a wall collapsed at Oxgangs Primary in the south of Edinburgh in January 2016.

Investigations found ties needed to connect the walls to steel beams had not been used in some cases, leaving them unstable in heavy winds.

Prof Cole told MSPs that building standards have plummeted as the system on-site daily checks has been “discarded”.

He said: “There’s a thought put about by quite a few legal advisers that the client doesn’t want to take responsibility for any contributory negligence by having his people look at the wall and comment on it and ask contractors to do anything - you stand back and let the builder do it.

“The risk with that is that the builder may do it wrong because at times there’s perverse incentives for contractors to not mark their own homework down, and force them to rebuild walls, cost them extra money and delays.

“The contractor will always give their own work the benefit of the doubt.

“When a contractor knows a clerk of works is on site, I feel the attitude is different because they know if they build something inappropriately it will be marked and they will be told to be rebuild again.

“The procurement models we have created a gap of the detailed level of inspection.”

This won’t change until a system of “independent scrutiny” of work is established.