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Report critical of school safety

A string of health-and-safety breaches have been exposed in reports into the state of the public school system, government documents have revealed.

The problems included rodent infestation in some schools, exposed and damaged cancer-causing asbestos, mould, poor first-aid kits and unserviced fire extinguishers and fire-safety devices.

Inspectors also found that schools were not cleaned properly.

The shock findings were made after inspections carried out at all public schools 18 months ago, but follow-up investigations completed just five months ago found that many of the problems had not been tackled.

The education ministry’s 2017 inspections found there were “numerous shortcomings relating to the overall quality and scope of cleaning, upkeep and maintenance, in tandem with improper modusoperandi practices, and other omissions by school administrators, academic and custodial staff at the respective schools”.

The report added: “There were also several breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1982 and the enabling Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 2009 that were noted.”

The summary said that all schools were found to be “relatively safe, within time and scope comparative to their operations and related practices”.

It added: “All schools had challenges relating to sanitation and hygiene, maintenance and upkeep of their buildings and related facilities.”

The summary said: “The majority of findings were not considered significant enough to be deemed to be posing any great immediate threat to the safety, health and wellbeing of teachers or students at the time of inspection, except where and as noted otherwise.”

Inspectors found that the majority of first-aid and medical kits at most schools “were non-compliant with regulatory requirements” and that there had been “improper inspection and servicing of fire extinguishers and other fire-safety devices and supporting apparatus”.

Control of pests such as cockroaches, ants and termites at the schools was found to be “poor”.

The report added: “Some schools also had incidences of rodent infestations.”

Damaged and exposed asbestos was also found in two schools and all schools had mould contamination.

But the report said: “No school had identified mould problems sufficient or significant enough at the time of inspection to warrant any major concern”, or that could pose “any immediate imminent risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of students or teachers, at the time of inspection”.

The inspectors also highlighted that most schools “had issues relating to the improper layout and alignment of electrical and/or information and communication technology wires”.

The summary added: “These continue to pose trip and fall hazards and must be stored, properly aligned and controlled.”

Security at the schools was also “deemed insufficient”.

The news came in three documents released by the Government yesterday that outlined school inspections carried out in 2017 and last autumn.

The Royal Gazette last month submitted a public access to information request that asked for the report connected to the inspections conducted in 2017.

A 42-page report on the findings of the 2017 inspections, as well as an executive summary, were released yesterday.

An executive summary based on “follow-up and verification inspection field work” conducted between September and October last year was also released.

The summary for the 2017 round of inspections said officials had difficulty carrying them out — because they could not find a car to get around the schools.

It explained: “Primary among the challenges was the initial unavailability of a motor vehicle to consistently conduct all field- work exercises”.

The summary said that another roadblock was the “unavailability of some school principals and related administrative officers to facilitate the inspection of their schools on the assigned dates”.

It added that “areas of some schools were found to be locked-up and school principals and other administrative officers having no access or key to such areas of their schools”.

The executive summary for last year’s follow-up inspections said that many of the failings had not been dealt with.

It said: “Throughout and at the close of inspection activities, numerous shortcomings relating to the overall quality and scope of cleaning, upkeep and maintenance in tandem with improper modus operandi practices, and other omissions by school administrators, academic and custodial staff at the respective schools, were observed and documented.”

The summary also detailed “several breaches” of health-and-safety legislation and regulations.

Walton Brown, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said yesterday that a programme of “immediate and ongoing improvements” had taken place since the first inspections were performed.

He added: “Strategies that have, and continue to be, implemented are yielding satisfactory results arising from the review of occupational safety and health within public schools.”

Mr Brown said that a “concerted effort” had been made to ensure that “every school undergoes a consistent maintenance routine”.

He added: “This includes scheduled and timely upkeep and repair activities so that schools are being optimally cleaned and maintained in an acceptable state on a regular basis to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of our teachers and students.”

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said that school safety was a top priority of the Government.

He added that most public school buildings were more than 50 years old.

Mr Rabain said: “We are at the stage where rebuilding is needed, and this is a direction we must seriously begin to look at in the near future.”