Scottish schools found with significant structural defects

13 Apr 17

More than 70 schools across Scotland have been found to be suffering similar defects to those that closed 17 Private Finance Initiative schools in Edinburgh last year.

Fifteen local authorities found 71 schools - built under the Public Finance Initiative or its successor funding models - with significant structural faults similar to the 17 PFI schools, which closed following the partial collapse of a gable wall at Oxgangs Primary.

A survey by BBC Scotland found the local authorities had carried out the sort of intrusive investigatory work recommended by the official report into the Oxgangs incident.

Repairs are complete at all but six, though the possibility remains of further schools being found with the same kind of flaws.

Attention is now likely to spread to other public buildings constructed under similar terms. Ian Honeyman of the Scottish Building Federation said: “The fundamental point that has to be addressed is that people have to have confidence in the buildings that are being produced, and also be confident that people are safe when they are living or working in them.”

Some nine tonnes of rubble from the gable wall at Oxgangs fell without warning into the playground below, fortunately at a time when it was unoccupied.

The cause was found to lie in the metal ties that attached the stone facing to the inner wall, which were either missing or wrongly fitted.

The city council immediately closed 17 other similarly constructed schools, disrupting lessons for 7,600 pupils.

The same flaws were uncovered in a second school. In some cases it was several weeks before buildings could be safely re-occupied.

An official report by Northern Irish architect John Cole pulled no punches about the potentially lethal dangers of the faults.

It did not lay the blame specifically on the funding model, but did criticise a cost-cutting lack of systematic supervision by the commissioning authority and the principal contractors, in this case a financial/construction consortium called Edinburgh Schools Partnership.

Interviewed by the BBC about the survey findings, Education Secretary John Swinney said that both building and funding methods had changed since the Scottish National Party government took charge at Holyrood in 2007, though he acknowledged that ministers still did not know how many schools or other public buildings might be liable to Oxgangs-type problems.

The Scottish Futures Trust, set up by ministers to seek ways of financing public investment other than the never popular PFI/Public Private Partnership models, had developed new financial structures like the Non-Profit Distributing model and a new approach to overseeing contracts.

“These schools were built under a brick-and-block system. We now use a steel framing system, which is much more individually configured to individual schools and the Edinburgh example - where 17 schools were taken forward as a batch purchase by the City of Edinburgh Council - that no longer happens,”

Swinney said. "We now do individual design, based on the steel framing system, to customise schools for the needs of individual localities and to give us much greater control over that construction process."

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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