Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh children return to class after school closures

Workers on site at one of the closed schools Image copyright PA

Children have returned to schools in Edinburgh after 17 sites were closed earlier this year over safety fears.

It comes as an independent public inquiry is launched into the fiasco, which affected about 7,600 pupils.

The buildings were closed suddenly in April after safety inspections were carried out following the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary in storms.

Remedial work has been carried out and all the affected schools have reopened in time for the new school term.

Scott Niven, a member of Craigmount High School's parent council said pupils had lost valuable time as a result of the closures that they would not get back.

He added: "We've been told the schools are now safe, and you have to respect that decision.

"Once there has been an investigation you would like to think there was some kind of compensation and anything they do get should be spent on the schools to improve them."

The safety checks revealed problems with wall and header ties, which are used to hold exterior and interior walls together and attach them to the rest of the building.

An additional 13 schools across Scotland have had to make repairs due to similar structural defects in the last five years, a BBC investigation has revealed.

The independent inquiry is expected to look what went wrong at the schools, including funding arrangements for the buildings, which were all built or refurbished as part of the same public private partnership (PPP) scheme.

Image caption Craigmount High School is one of those which is reopening to pupils

But Andrew Burns, the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that he believed the defects were "construction, not contract issues".

He said the inquiry, led by architect John Cole, will report by the end of the year.

Mr Burns added: "I want to know as much as every other parent in Edinburgh why this happened and that's why we taken the unusual step of instigating an independent inquiry.

"I think there will be lessons for Edinburgh, I also think they will also be lessons for the wider geography of Scotland and for the rest of the UK."

Asked about the cost of the saga to the local authority, he insisted: "There has been no cost to date to the local authority."

Analysis by BBC Scotland education correspondent Jamie McIvor

The inquiry is going to take some time and needs to look at a number of issues:

  • How the schools were built;
  • Whether the funding arrangements added to the risk of something going wrong;
  • The controversial issue of self-certification within the building industry.

There's an awful lot for the inquiry to look at here. And of course it reignited the debate about the very wisdom of private finance schemes being used to construct schools and other public sector buildings.

The city council's chief executive believes the inquiry may reveal nationwide issues with buildings constructed under public private partnerships.

Mr Burns added that the council had withheld "many millions of pounds" in unitary charges from the Edinburgh Schools Partnership, which operates the school estate on behalf of the council, while the buildings have been unavailable.

"Yes there was significant expenses in arranging the bussing of pupils around the city - but that's all been deducted in effect from the unitary charge," he said.

The schools closures led to a huge logistical headache for the council, which had to provide alternative arrangements for pupils and teachers.

More than 5,000 were educated at in excess of 70 different schools and education facilities during the three months in the run-up to the summer holidays.

Mr Burns said: "It was a massive logistical operation to make sure all those pupils were decanted into another educational environment, particularly the five high schools for the exam period."

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