A teachers union is pushing for a review of all public private partnership (PPP) contracts in Scotland after 17 such schools are set to close as a result of fears over safety, affecting close to 9,000 students who were unable to return to school after the Easter holiday.
The Edinburgh schools, all built under the same PPP1 contract, were scheduled to be closed after workers that were there to repair structural issues at one elementary school uncovered “further serious defects” in the same building, writes Laura Paterson for The Independent. These additional safety concerns included a lack of header ties in the steel structure.
The team was present to repair the hundreds of bricks that had blown off the wall of the Oxgangs Primary School during Storm Gertrude in January. While the school was able to reopen after a few days, it closed again in March after an inspection found concerns about an exterior wall.
Only days later, three additional schools were closed after being found to be unsafe for students, writes Stuart Nicolson for the BBC.
The schools in question had all been built by Miller Construction, which was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014 as part of the PPP1 project.
Edinburgh Schools Partnership, which operates the schools, was unable to give any reassurance as to the safety of the buildings, causing the local authorities to decide to close the buildings in addition to a neighborhood center.
In all, 10 elementary schools, five high schools, two additional support needs schools, and the Goodtrees Neighborhood Center have been affected by the closures, and will remain shut indefinitely.
However, not all of the schools had been completely built under PPP1, so some of them could re-open in part.
A review would look into all PPP and similar private finance initiative (PFI) deals.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS welcomes that the safety of pupils and staff is being treated as a priority, while recognising that these short-notice closures will be highly inconvenient for pupils and parents.
“However, we must also question how such significant defaults could escape normal building control scrutiny and we believe it is now necessary for an urgent review of all PPP/PFI contracts, including the terms of the private maintenance contracts which are often both expensive and extremely restrictive.”
Scottish Green candidate for Lothian Andy Wightman and Edinburgh Southern SNP candidate Jim Eadie had previously asked that the contracts be reviewed. Eadie said the school closings were occurring at an “incredibly important time” which may affect student performance on upcoming exams.
All councils throughout Scotland have been asked to perform any checks on their own buildings by Scottish Government officials.
It is unknown exactly how long the schools will remain closed. A detailed structural survey of all schools is currently being carried out by ESP, which hopes most will be completed by the end of the week.
Parents are being asked to make alternative arrangements for the children through next week. The council has promised to release daily updates on the progress. While the same engineering problem was found at all of the schools that have been looked at so far, chief executive Andrew Kerr said that he expected “some parts of the schools” to possibly re-open later in the week.