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SNP ignored calls for school building reports to be included in inspections

The SNP ignored calls to make schools submit building reports as part of school inspections, it has emerged.

It comes as 17 schools across Edinburgh, built under the PFI scheme, have been forced to close amid safety fears.

The Scottish Conservatives asked three times over the last two years for schools to prove their buildings were up to scratch, as well as the quality of education provided, as part of the inspections regime.

In June 2014, young people spokeswoman Liz Smith asked the Scottish Government to review the remit of Education Scotland to “include the condition of school buildings”, pointing out Audit Scotland had concern for around 18 per cent of the school estate.

But minister for learning, Alasdair Allan, said it was up to local authorities to check the safety of buildings.

Six months later, Ms Smith again raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament, but Mr Allan responded with a similar answer.

Then, in May 2015, she asked again, only to be told: “Those issues have been raised in the past. Nonetheless, the assessment of the condition of school buildings remains a matter for local authorities.”

She said that shows the SNP has “washed its hands” of the issue, while leader Ruth Davidson said the Scottish Government should explain why it ignored the warnings.

Scottish Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz 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."

Notes to editors

Below is the transcript of three exchanges between Scottish Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith and learning minister Alasdair Allan on the issue:

19 June 2014, General Questions http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=9261&i=83514&c=1676715&s=inspection

Liz Smith:
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will review the remit of Education Scotland school inspections to include the condition of school buildings. (S4O-03379)

The Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages (Dr Alasdair Allan):
School inspections aim to answer three questions: how well young people learn and achieve; how well the school supports young people to develop and learn; and how well the school improves the quality of its work.

Local authorities have responsibility for health and safety and the structural condition of buildings. Although Education Scotland does not inspect the structural aspects of a school, if it becomes aware of a health and safety issue during an inspection it follows up the issue with the school and the local authority to ensure that it is addressed. National guidance is provided to assist local authorities in assessing the condition of their school estate.

Liz Smith:
The minister will know that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning rightly asked local authorities to review their school estate in light of the tragic accident at Liberton high school. He will also know that this week Audit Scotland flagged up that there is concern in relation to 18 per cent of the school estate. Does he agree that there is a strong case to ensure that there is formal consideration of the condition of school buildings when it comes to school inspections?

Dr Allan:
I think that the whole Parliament agrees that we must learn lessons from the tragedy at Liberton. The member will be aware that there is not a great deal more that I can say about the case, given the on-going investigations.

It is important to say that local authorities are best placed to assess the condition of schools. It is significant that, notwithstanding everything that the member said, the proportion of pupils who are in schools that have been categorised as having poor or bad buildings has dropped from 37 per cent in 2007 to 16 per cent now. We are not complacent about that, but I suggest that the figures indicate that there have been substantial achievements.
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03 December 2014, Education and Lifelong Learning Questionshttp://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=9666&i=87792&c=1766547&s=inspection

Liz Smith:
Has the minister considered further whether the state of buildings should be included in the school inspection?

Dr Allan:
The responsibility for assessing the state of buildings lies with local authorities. However, it is worth saying that the work and the money that have gone in centrally have significantly reduced the number of schools that are in category C or D condition. The number of pupils in a condition C building is 104,000 and the number in a condition D building is 6,000, which are significant reductions on the numbers in previous years.

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13 May 2015, Education and Lifelong Learning Questionshttp://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=9945&i=91292&c=1826634&s=inspection

Liz Smith:
Has there been any concern over the question of school buildings being included in an Education Scotland inspection report?

Dr Allan:
Those issues have been raised in the past. Nonetheless, the assessment of the condition of school buildings remains a matter for local authorities.

For more on today’s story about 17 PFI schools closing, visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-36009564

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