§ Mr. Robert B. Jones
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he is taking in view of the recent storms to ensure the safety of school pupils.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth
Our first concern has been to ensure that everything possible is done to avoid more deaths and injuries to pupils such as those which occurred in the recent storms. The standing instructions which local authorities issue to schools about handling emergencies, combined with the good sense of head teachers and their colleagues, played their part in helping to minimise casualties. But my Department is writing to LEAs asking them to review their instructions in the light of recent experience.
It is the responsibility of local education authorities to ensure the safety of their school buildings, but my Department has been working with the Department of the Environment and the Building Research Establishment to establish the causes of the roof failure at the Grange junior school in Swindon. As a result of that investigation the Department is today issuing guidance to all local education authorities, grant-maintained schools, independent schools, non-maintained special schools, CTCs and the PCFC and UFC about the characteristics of buildings with lightweight roofs which may be at risk, inspection procedures and possible remedial measures. I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Library.
The Government have already announced that the Bellwin scheme will operate with respect to damage sustained in the storms of a month ago. This assists LEAs following an emergency with the costs of immediate repairs to school buildings to ensure their continued operation and the safety of their occupants. In parallel, my Department has written to diocesan authorities and other promoters of voluntary aided schools setting out a simplified claims procedure for repairs required after storm damage and inviting bids.