We need to tackle asbestos in schools

When we think of workers being exposed to asbestos, it conjures up thoughts of factories or building sites.

But the stark reality is that more than 75% of schools in the UK contain asbestos. That means thousands of pupils and staff are at risk.

Between 2003 and 2012, there were 2,484 deaths among teaching professionals that were attributed to mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer caused by asbestos.

This included 24 teaching assistants, nursery nurses and school secretaries.

This is why UNISON joined forces with nine other trade unions to demand the Department for Education carries out an urgent review into the way asbestos is managed in schools.

Yet despite the urgency, the report – which was due to be published last spring – is still to see the light of day.

There is now a real possibility that the report will not be published before the dissolution of Parliament at the end of this month.

That suggests the government considers the problem of asbestos in schools too big a problem to tackle, and would rather leave it for a future government to deal with.

The last Labour government’s school buildings programme went some way towards upgrading many schools that were in desperate need of refurbishment.

But when the coalition scrapped it in 2010, more than 700 schools, many in deprived areas, remained confined in shoddy, and often dangerous, buildings.

This review is a chance to put radical measures in place to address the problem of asbestos in schools, but that opportunity is being squandered.

The government can no longer bury its head in the sand – it must publish this report immediately.