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NUT debates asbestos in schools

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Asbestos: £10m in compensation

ASBESTOS remains a killer in schools and there is simply no evidence to support the Government’s case that it is safer to manage asbestos than to remove it.

That’s according to the National Union of Teachers, who held their conference in Cardiff over the Easter break.

ASBESTOS A SCANDAL

Commenting after the debate on Motion 26, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: “The continuing presence of asbestos in nearly 90% of our schools is a scandal and is risking the lives of children and staff. In 2014 there were 17 teacher deaths from mesothelioma. Children are even more at risk because of the long latency of asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma.

“The Government and the Health and Safety Executive do not acknowledge that there is a serious problem with asbestos in schools and as a consequence there is no political will to remove it.

“The findings of a survey of NUT members provide no comfort for the Government and HSE’s view that the current policy of managing asbestos in situ is working.

“An NUT survey on asbestos in schools shows that nearly 50% of respondents did not know whether their school contained asbestos and only 2% of respondents said that parents had been given information about the presence of asbestos in the school.

“This is deeply worrying given that the majority of schools (86%) do contain asbestos. Parents, children and teachers should not be kept in the dark about this issue that has serious and life threatening consequences to those exposed to it.

“The NUT will continue to work with its partner unions through the Joint Union Asbestos Committee. We are calling for Government to undertake a national audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in our schools and to begin a long-term phased removal of asbestos from our schools, with schools in the worst condition prioritised. This ticking time bomb has to be eradicated from our schools.”

TEACHERS AND PUPILS AT RISK

The union has called for asbestos’ removal must take place under strictly controlled conditions and claims it is misleading and scaremongering to suggest that removal might be unsafe.

At least 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980, and 205 of these deaths have occurred since 2001.

The real numbers are likely to be much higher because these figures do not include anyone over the age of 75.

Teachers are now dying from mesothelioma at an average of 17 per year, up from three per year during 1980-85.

Much of the asbestos in schools was installed during the 1940s -1970s, and is in a deteriorating state. When asbestos is in poor condition, fibres are more likely to be released. Therefore, phased removal, with priority given to the most dangerous materials, is the practical solution and is the only way to ensure that schools are safe.

Some 86% of schools contain asbestos, and, as all children attend school, the numbers facing potential exposure are huge.

£10M PAID IN COMPENSATION

Professor Julian Peto, a leading epidemiologist, has estimated that between 200 and 300 people die each year of mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos when they were a pupil.

Schools are different to other workplaces as children are more at risk from asbestos exposure. This is because they have longer lives ahead in which to develop asbestos-related disease. The greater risk to children was confirmed by the Department of Health’s Committee on Carcinogenicity in June 2013.

A child exposed at age five is five times more likely to develop mesothelioma than someone exposed at age 30.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted to all local authorities in England and Wales have revealed that, in the last decade, over £10m has been paid in compensation to former pupils and members of staff exposed to asbestos in schools.

86% OF SCHOOLS CONTAIN ASBESTOS

An NUT survey carried out in March 2015 found that 44% of respondents had not even been told whether their school is one of the 86% which do contain asbestos.

Inspections carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over the last few years found flaws in asbestos management in a number of schools that have led to enforcement action. Since relatively few schools have been inspected, this begs the question, what about the rest?

Asbestos management can be expensive and time-consuming and requires a sustained commitment, even when changes to personnel take place, or when schools convert to academy status. The alternative – removal – means the problem is dealt with once and for all.

In 2016, the DfE surveyed all head teachers about asbestos management in their school. Unfortunately, as the survey was not compulsory, only 25% of schools responded. Of those that did, nearly 30% needed to improve their asbestos management and 19% were not compliant with the Control of Asbestos Regulations. This included 2% of schools which gave serious cause for concern.

In March 2017, it was reported to the Public Accounts Committee that pupils at a school in Sunderland had to be ‘hosed down’ on more than one occasion because asbestos fibres were released from ceiling tiles.

NO LONG-TERM STRATEGY

The findings of the Government’s review of its asbestos in schools policy, published on March 12, 2015, were a step in the right direction with a new focus on training for staff and accountability of duty holders.

What was lacking, however, is a long-term strategy for the gradual eradication of asbestos from schools.

£300,000 was spent removing asbestos from royal households in 2014-15, and a further £150m has been earmarked for royal refurbishment works, which includes asbestos removal.

Likewise, restoration works to the Houses of Parliament are scheduled to cost between £3.5b and £5.7b, a sum which includes asbestos removal.

The NUT has asked: if asbestos removal is good enough for royal households and politicians – why should pupils and teachers receive anything less than this?

The NUT has recommended that all teachers should be aware if their school contains asbestos, and specifically where it is located, to avoid unintentionally disturbing it.

If there is no asbestos survey available, teachers should ensure that this information is provided to them by the dutyholder/headteacher.

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Education

Examination crisis: teacher’s predicted grades to be given to students

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THE Welsh Government has announced today (Mon, Aug 17) that AS, A level, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate and Welsh Baccalaureate grades in Wales will now be awarded on the basis of Centre Assessment Grades.

This occurred after the outrage of students, causing protests outside the Senedd after hearing that a total of 42% of A-level grades predicted by their teachers had been lowered when the Welsh results were published last week. This was due to the decision to process these grades through an algorithm.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said she took the decision to maintain confidence in the system.

Speaking on the decision, Kirsty Williams said: “Working with Qualifications Wales and WJEC we have sought an approach which provides fairness and balances out differences in the standards applied to judgments in schools.

“Given decisions elsewhere, the balance of fairness now lies with awarding Centre Assessment grades to students, despite the strengths of the system in Wales.

“I am taking this decision now ahead of results being released this week, so that there is time for the necessary work to take place.

“For grades issued last week, I have decided that all awards in Wales, will also be made on the basis of teacher assessment.

“For those young people, for whom our system produced higher grades than those predicted by teachers, the higher grades will stand.

“Maintaining standards is not new for 2020, it is a feature of awarding qualifications every year in Wales, and across the UK.

“However, it is clear that maintaining confidence in our qualifications whilst being fair to students requires this difficult decision.

“These have been exceptional circumstances, and in due course I will be making a further statement on an independent review of events following the cancellation of this year’s exams.

“Other Awarding Bodies across the UK are involved in determining the approach to vocational qualifications. This continues to be the case but it is important that I give assurance to GCSE, AS and A level student at the earliest opportunity.”

This was a decision welcomed by Suzy Davies, Shadow Education Minister.

Commenting on the Decision, Suzy Davies said: “This has been an exceptional time, and this news will come as a very welcome relief for the thousands of A-Level students who last week were looking at grades lower than they were predicted to receive. It will also be a relief to pupils expecting results this week as well as an acknowledgement of quite how much effort teachers put into this.

“It is reassuring that the Minister has listened to the Welsh Conservatives and other parties in the Welsh Parliament, but especially pleasing that she heard the voices of young people up and down the country.

“These students – at A, AS, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate, and Welsh Baccalaureate level – will now have the confidence to plan their future education or career aspirations, and reach their potential.”

The Education Minister also promised an independent review of the events “following the cancellation of this year’s exams”.

Students who received higher grades than those predicted by teachers will keep them.

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Education

Swansea University appoints new governing body Chair

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Swansea University is pleased to announce that Bleddyn Phillips has been appointed as its new Chair of Council.
Mr Phillips, who joined the University’s governing body in May 2017, has been appointed Chair for a four-year term replacing Sir Roger Jones, whose term of office came to an end in September 2019.

Mr Phillips said: “It is a great honour to be appointed Swansea University’s Chair of Council. As a Welsh-speaker, with strong roots in Llanelli and Gower, and with both parents having studied at Swansea, I have long felt an affinity with the University and have been delighted to serve on the Council.

“I want to acknowledge the contribution made to the University by Sir Roger Jones over almost 14 years and I very much look forward to working with, and serving, the University as it celebrates its centenary in 2020 and beyond.”

Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said “It will be a privilege to work with Bleddyn as we develop our new strategic plan and look forward to beginning our second century in 2020.”

Mr Phillips is a lawyer by profession, a former commercial director at oil companies BP and Total, and later Global Head of the Oil and Gas practice at the international law firm, Clifford Chance LLP. He is Director of Llanelli Scarlets RFC and was a trustee of the Wales Millennium Centre from 2012-2018.

The Council is the University’s governing body, which approves the mission and strategic vision of the University, long-term academic and business plans, key performance indicators and overall standards. The Council assures that the University discharges its duties in accordance with the Welsh Quality Assessment Framework.

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Education

Experts attack Welsh Government’s proposed smacking ban plan

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PROMINENT academics have criticised the Welsh Government’s bill to criminalise parental smacking during a public debate at Swansea University.

Tonight, experts from the fields of sociology and criminology and parenting studies poured scorn on the plan during an Academy of Ideas debate on state intervention in the family.

A panel of three academics discussed the merits or otherwise of the smacking legislation, which is due to be debated by AMs for a third time in January next year.

Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University and outspoken critic of the Scottish smacking Bill, said: “No longer treated like citizens, as adults who have an opinion and a basic level of autonomy to raise our children, we have culture change imposed from on high – we are made ‘aware’ by the new authoritarians holding the stick above us.

“The smacking act is a disgrace. It is a form of brutality that undermines parents, weakens the meaning of freedom, and will go on to destroy many loving families who dare to think and act differently to the modern elitists.”

Dr Waiton added: “The brutality of the smacking act will mean that a light smack on the hand or bottom of a child will be a criminal offence. Hard smacking is already illegal, but to the middle-class anti-smacking zealots that was not enough. Children, they argue, need equal protection from assault. The very language they use is alien to the millions of parents who occasionally smack rather than assault their children.

“Parents know that smacking a child is a form of discipline often done out of love and concern rather than something that is abusive and criminal.”

Criticising the way politicians at the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have engaged with parents on the smacking legislation, he said: “The new elite think a lot about consultation and inclusion. The reality is a process run by a small section of society, politicians and professionals, who exist in their own bubble and are distant and disconnected from ordinary people.”

Ellie Lee, Professor of Parenting Research at the University of Kent also spoke out on the Welsh Government’s plans.

“Within the context of an authoritative child rearing relationship, aversive discipline including smacking is well accepted by the young child, effective in managing short-term misbehaviour and has no documented harmful long-term effects.”

She added: “It should be the concern of professionals who work with parents to respectfully offer them alternative disciplinary strategies rather than to condemn parents for using methods consonant with their own, but not the counsellors beliefs and values.”

The Professor accused the Welsh Government of using the “full force of the criminal law to attack people who disagree on the comparative merits of using smacking rather than something like timeout”, saying it is a “bureaucratic imposition on parents”.

Only one academic – Dr Gideon Calder, Associate Professor in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University – spoke in favour of Government interventions like the smacking ban.

Dr Calder argued that intervention is justifiable in some instances and said something like the smacking ban is not necessarily authoritarian. He said: “the point of the legislation is to safeguard children from potentially harmful interactions.”

Commenting on the debate, Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Be Reasonable Wales campaign, said:

“The criticism levelled at the Government’s smacking plans tonight by experts in the fields of sociology, criminology and parenting studies should be a wakeup call to Ministers.

“Experts are not convinced that the plan to outlaw parental smacking is viable, needful or helpful in terms of improving child protection.

“I hope AMs hear the concerns of these academics as well as their constituents and scrap the smacking ban bill when it’s voted on in January.”

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