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Asbestos in Schools

Misleading Statements
by Councils, and other authorities

(References shown by numbers in the text are at the foot of the page)


Misleading Statement:
Asbestos will be Removed during Refurbishments

The following statement has been made by Ministers and Local Authorities:
“Major refurbishments undertaken under BSF would normally include the removal of all asbestos, and any deteriorating material would normally be identified by a type 2 survey and removed.” (1)

This is probably true but it is also misleading because:

The evidence is that most schools will not have their asbestos removed.

This is because the Government policy is that “If asbestos is in good condition and not likely to be disturbed then it is usually safer to manage it than it is to remove it.” Consequently the asbestos does not have to be removed during refurbishment.

This was confirmed by the Schools Minister who was asked in a Parliamentary question :

“If he will require all asbestos to be removed from school buildings during refurbishment projects undertaken as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

He replied that:

“There is no requirement to remove asbestos from buildings during refurbishment.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations ... do not require the automatic removal of Asbestos Containing Materials

If the material is in good condition and will not be disturbed then it does not pose a health risk and it is usually safer to leave it in place and manage it. If the material is damaged or is likely to be disturbed and it cannot be repaired or protected, it should be removed. (2)

In a recent Parliamentary debate, 25th March 2009, the DCSF Minister stated that all asbestos would normally be removed in BSF major refurbishments but she failed to mention primary school policy.  About a third of the 3,400 secondary schools will have a major refurbishment, about half will be rebuilt and the remainder will be partially refurbished.  Whereas only 5% of the 20,400 primary schools will be replaced, less than half will be refurbished and the remainder will have minor works undertaken. 

At a meeting on 3rd June with the DCSF Minister she was asked whether asbestos will be removed from primary schools during refurbishment. DCSF stated that it is not for the Government to decide, instead the decision is left to individual local authorities.  It was also emphasised by DCSF that the primary school refurbishment would often be no more than “decoration.” 

The policy of managing rather than removing is borne out by the facts as increasingly the evidence shows that the asbestos will not be removed from primary schools unless the refurbishment is likely to disturb the asbestos. A couple of examples are as follows:

In Kent the Council Official who manages the authority’s estate gave a statement in February 2009, saying: 

“Even the schools rebuilding and refurbishment programme would not spell the complete end for asbestos in all schools and that enclosed in walls or ceilings would be left unless it posed a risk or was exposed.” (3)

In April 2009 Norfolk County Council were asked whether they would remove all asbestos during refurbishment. They replied

“Asbestos material that is not within the scope of the refurbishment project and will therefore not be affected by it, will not normally be removed....” (4)

The Government’s policy is therefore very clear, for despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they stick to their flawed policy that it is safer to manage the asbestos rather than removing it.  Therefore rather than taking this golden opportunity of ridding all schools of asbestos once and for all, they instead allow the local authorities to leave it in place and manage it.

Once the schools have been refurbished with huge amounts of money, there will not be a second chance to remove the asbestos, instead it will have to be managed long into the future.  Future generations will therefore remain at risk for one failure in asbestos management, one accident or just a child running into a wall and the deadly asbestos fibres will be released once again. 

So next time an official or a Government Minister says to you “Major refurbishments undertaken under BSF would normally include the removal of all asbestos, and any deteriorating material would normally be identified by a type 2 survey and removed.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your child’s school is going to have all the asbestos removed, for if it is a primary school the chances are that it won’t.

Michael Lees 22 June 2009


1. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for DCSF Sarah McCarthy-Fry Asbestos (Schools) Debate 25 Mar 2009

2. Minister of State for Schools, Rt Hon Jim Knight MP, Parliamentary answer 142291 25 Jun 07

4.. Letter Director of Children’s Services Norfolk County Council / Richard Bacon MP 8 Apr 2009