Friday 2 May 2014

Michaela Free School asbestos fears demand answers from Birbalsingh and Gove

The scene at Arena House earlier today
Brent Teachers' Panel has written to Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher designate of Michaela Academy Free School and Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, seeking information on the asbestos removal programme at Arena House, the ex-College of North West London's Wembley Park building, which was built at a time when asbestos was widely used.

Their concern has been heightened by the fact that Michaela's website says that the contractor Willmott Dixon is working to tight timelines:
Willmott Dixon is our appointed contractor and a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes such as site surveys, detailing of designs and securing planning permission. With all of this now in place, the team is currently preparing to start work on site in just a few weeks’ time.Our contractors have a great deal of experience in preparing free schools to open (often on shorter timelines than ours) [My emphasis] and the Education Funding Agency is involved every step of the way to ensure that everything required will be in place for us to welcome our first intake in September.
Over the next few months in the lead-up to the opening of the school, Willmott Dixon will be stripping out the existing building[My emphasis] creating new spaces that meet our specific requirements and installing new IT systems and furniture in preparation for our new school. The work on site will then be the end product of months of planning and we will keep you updated as Arena House undergoes its exciting transformation.
The Teachers' Panel's concern was heightened when they discovered that Willmott Dixon was one of three firms, along with Marks and Spencer, fined for unsafe removal of asbestos during refurbishment works at the M&S store in Reading: LINK
The principal contractor at the Bournemouth store, Wilmott Dixon, failed to plan, manage and monitor removal of asbestos-containing materials.

It did not prevent the possibility of asbestos being disturbed by its workers in areas that had not been surveyed extensively.
 The court heard that the client, Marks and Spencer plc, did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of asbestos-containing materials at the Reading store.
There was a considerable amount of debris evident  in the stripped Arena House classrooms today
 The Brent Teachers' Panel letter reads:
Dear Ms Birbalsingh and Mr Michael Gove,

I am writing on behalf of Brent Teachers’ Panel, representing teacher unions in all types of Brent schools (community, grant maintained, independent, academy and free schools) to request information regarding the management and/or removal of asbestos at the site which is being refurbished for use as Michaela Academy Free School.

Our reason for requesting this information relates to my rights as appointed safety rep and elected health and safety adviser for the NUT representing some 1700 member teachers in Brent, some of whom may work at this school. As you will know, under the Safety Reps and Safety Committee Regulations 1977, an appointed safety rep has the right to see documentation and reports associated with works in a building which may affect the safety of his or her members. In addition to this, and as Brent teachers, we are also genuinely concerned for the safety of children and others in our community.

Please could you therefore provide me with the following:

·        A copy or sight of the asbestos refurbishment/demolition (Type 3) survey carried out for Arena House with associated material and priority risk assessments
·        A local asbestos management plan for the school which will be used when it opens in Arena House in September
·        An explanation as to the choice/selection/tendering process of the contractor Willmott Dixon, bearing in mind that they were found guilty in court of contravening sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 between 5 February 2007 and 28 February 2007, and bearing in mind also that when they took this to appeal on the grounds of small risk to health, the appeal was lost in May 2012.

I would like to assure you of our best intentions and that we only have our members’ and pupils’ safety and wellbeing in mind with this request. The Brent Teachers’ Panel has had to deal with the death of a school pupil and enforcement notices for poor asbestos management in the past, in Brent schools, so we always have safety foremost in our minds.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
Jenny Cooper,
Brent NUT Health & Safety Adviser,
Health & Safety Adviser to Brent Teachers’ Panel
Elected London Representative on the National NUT Health & Safety Working Group
Brent Appointed School Health & Safety Representative
Although free schools are independent of the council, Brent Council does have overall responsibility for the health and well-being of Brent pupils and so should intervene to make sure that this will be a safe environment for pupils and staff.


Anonymous said...

Unless a satisfactory response is very quickly received to this letter then the situation needs to be shouted from the rooftops without any further delay. Having disorganised amateurs messing with kids' education is one thing; having them messing with staff and pupils' life-expectancy is another thing entirely.

Anonymous said...

If Willmott Dixon have already been convicted of a health and safety related offence in relation to asbestos then what is being done to safeguard the children and staff at this dilapidated building which really should be floored?

This alone would prevent me from sending my children to this school. Well done to Brent here and Martin for your continued efforts for informing us of some great injustices posed on us all and dangers too.