Schools remain closed over safety fears

Inspection at Oxgangs Primary Image caption Inspections are being carried out at all the Edinburgh PP schools

Schools in Edinburgh are to remain closed following the Easter holidays over safety fears.

A total of 17 schools, including 10 primaries, five secondaries and two additional support needs schools, have been shut due to concern over the standard of construction.

They were all built under the same public private partnership (PPP) contract.

About 7,000 pupils are likely to be affected by the closures.

Parents have been left to make last-minute childcare arrangements.

The Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre has also been closed.

Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, has called for a review of all PPP contracts in Scotland, questioning how such significant faults could escape building control scrutiny.

Exams to go ahead

Education Secretary Angela Constance told BBC Scotland answers were needed as to what went wrong and why.

The closure of the schools, which are about 10 years old, was prompted after workers repairing serious structural issues at one city primary found "further serious defects" with the building on Friday.

Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which operates the schools, could not provide safety assurances.

Image caption City of Edinburgh Council has said it will keep parents informed through its website

The council's chief executive Andrew Kerr told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We were unable to have the time to put contingency arrangements in place to ensure pupils could continue their education."

He said some contingency plans would be in place in some schools by the end of Tuesday, but could not say when this would be in place in all the schools.

He said the council was getting lots of offers of help including from universities and other local authorities.

'Highly inconvenient'

He said the health and safety of pupils was the priority, along with ensuring the right arrangements were in place for parents and pupils.

He added that exams would go ahead on time.

"We expect some parts of some schools to be considered for re-opening this week," he said.

The council said it hoped to have more information for parents on Tuesday and would be keeping them informed through its website.

Priority will be given to helping students with special needs and those due to start their exams in a few weeks' time.

Image copyright PA Image caption Concerns were first raised by the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary School

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan called for a review of all PPP and similar private finance initiative (PFI) deals.

He 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."

'Deeply concerning'

Ms Constance told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The situation is deeply concerning. I want to reassure parents that the safety of pupils is paramount.

"The Scottish government expects all local authorities to exercise their duties in the provision of education in a safe environment.

"The immediate priority is to ensure that everything is being done to support children."

She added: "We will certainly need answers about what went wrong and why.

Image copyright Annemarie Pearson Image caption A wall at Oxgangs Primary collapsed during high winds.

"There are, of course, big questions about PFI contracts. It's no secret that this government has long-standing concern but I've no doubt that when parliament reconvenes in three or four weeks' time that there will be renewed interest in this area."

The Scottish government has asked all councils across Scotland to conduct "any necessary checks" on their own buildings and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired an emergency meeting of the government's resilience committee on Saturday.

Edinburgh City Council leader Andrew Burns said the council had "no option" but to close the schools.

He said: "Clearly we have every right to expect these schools to have been built to a good standard and in accordance with industry practice. We now know this isn't the case."

Special needs pupils

An ESP spokeswoman apologised and said the partnership would accept "full financial responsibility".

She added: "The standard of construction carried out by the building contractor is completely unacceptable and we are now undertaking full structural surveys on all PPP1 schools to determine whether this issue is more widespread."

Lindsay Cairns' daughter is in primary one at Oxgangs Primary School.

She said: "I don't know if I'm going to have to have time off next week to look after her.

"I've spoken to my manager. We have to wait and see what the council are going to come back with.

"I'd like to think there's going to be an update and a contingency plan put in place but to me I'd rather have had that contingency plan before now."

Wall collapse

Rachel Bhandari's son is nine years old and has cerebral palsy. His special school is closed until further notice.

She and her husband have spent the weekend trying to organise childcare as they both work.

She said: "It presents us with a really big difficulty really. We were expecting the school to be open.

"We were told earlier in the week that it was going to be open and then just to find out on Friday that it's not is a nightmare."

The problems were first uncovered in January when a wall at Oxgangs Primary collapsed during high winds.

Three other schools were later closed after inspections revealed problems with the way walls had been built.

The schools had been expected to re-open after the Easter break.

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