The government has been accused of “complete dereliction of duty” over the state of school buildings in England after a woman suffered a serious head injury when a large piece of siding fell while she was waiting to pick up her children.
The incident at Dore Primary School in Sheffield, which was raised in the House of Commons on Monday, came at a time of growing concern over deteriorating school property and warnings that some buildings were at risk of collapsing.
The injured woman had to take three weeks off work, had an MRI scan and has tinnitus as a result of the incident in January. “I didn’t see it come out. I heard a pop and then something hit me in the face,” she said.
Carla, who did not want to reveal her full name, was waiting in front of the school for her two children, aged eight and 10, near one of the exits used by the students, when the front panel measuring 3 to 4.5 meters with 4-inch nails fell and hit her in the head.
“It’s horrible that we’ve gotten to this point,” she said. “Our children’s school buildings are literally falling apart and it looks like it’s only a matter of time before something even more serious happens.
“My injuries are serious enough, but the fact that this could so easily have been a child is not worth thinking about. I know the school is doing everything they can, but I also know they don’t have the money. It looks like this is a wake-up call for the government and I really hope it doesn’t go unheeded.” The school, which was deemed “excellent” by Ofsted in 2015, declined to comment.
This month, seven unions wrote to the government demanding immediate action to deal with the “shocking” state of school buildings in England after years of inadequate investment.
The Department of Education acknowledged the crisis in its latest annual report, which raised the risk level of building collapses from “critical” to “critical – very likely”.
Last week, the government confirmed that at least 39 public schools in England have been forced to partially or fully close over the past three years because one or more buildings were deemed unsafe.
Olivia Blake, the Labor MP for Sheffield Hallam, who raised Carla’s case over education issues, said parents and teachers at the school were concerned about the safety of the building and the impact of repair costs on the school’s already stretched budget.
“It is a complete dereliction of duty. Thirteen years of reckless conservative cuts in school capital spending budgets have left us in this situation. Now my constituents are paying the price. Ministers need to take urgent action to address this crisis before anyone else is harmed.”
Schools Minister Nick Gibb, responding on Commons to a question from Blake and others about the deterioration of school buildings, said an increasing number of structural problems had been identified through the ongoing monitoring and survey of school assets.
“We can and do improve the life expectancy of school buildings through careful maintenance and upgrades over time. That’s why we have a 10-year rebuild program and commit significant capital resources each year. And whenever the department becomes aware of a dangerous building, immediate action is taken.”