South East Wales

Cwmcarn school asbestos: demolition suggested by contractor

A specialist contractor has advised Caerphilly council to consider demolishing a school closed last week because of asbestos, it has emerged.

The 900-pupil Cwmcarn High School shut last Friday after workmen spotted the potentially hazardous material.

It partially reopened on Friday with sixthformers reporting to the performing arts centre in the morning.

Year 11 pupils return on Monday and Year 10 pupils on Tuesday. Lessons for other pupils resume on 5 November.

The locations for the remaining pupils' lessons are still to be confirmed.

Caerphilly council has defended its actions in closing the school immediately on receipt of a structural report last Friday which identified asbestos.

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Media captionSally Yamamoto is not worried about sending daughter Nadia back to school

The report recommended an immediate notice of prohibited access, although the risk to students and staff from fibres of damaged asbestos was said to be low.

The council has also revealed that the specialist contractors who wrote the report also advised it to "look at the abatement/demolition of Cwmcarn High School, due to the implicated costs of continuing to operate without further risk of exposure".

The council estimates it would cost millions to remove the asbestos, but says it is considering all options.

The authority will hold a series of meetings with parents next week to provide a further update situation, including arrangements for pupils returning next month after the half-term break.

Officials and the school's governing body are investigating a range of options for the children's return to lessons, but it is not clear what the arrangements are.

A statement on Friday from the school's governing body and Caerphilly council said more than 100 sixthformers had attended lessons in the performing arts block in the morning.

It said: "Year 11 will return on Monday 22nd October and should report to the Performing Arts block at 8.30am.

"Year 10 pupils will be able to return to lessons at Cwmcarn High School on Tuesday 23rd October and should report to the Performing Arts block at 8.30am.

A special meeting of the council will take place on 23 October to discuss the issues.

The local authority has also provided guidance about the health issues relating to asbestos.

It said breathing it in may take some fibres into the lungs and breathing out will remove some, but a few fibres may be left in the lungs and, over time, as more fibres gather, this will increase the possibility that they may cause harm.

Image caption The school shutdown without warning last Friday after asbestos was found in a structural survey

For these reasons, short term exposure to asbestos is not considered to be harmful, but there may be harmful effects of very long term exposure, the council said.

Parent Sally Yamamoto, whose daughter Nadia attends the school, said: "They haven't really addressed the problem - there's still lots of questions to be answered.

"But it's not the school, it's the local authority after all," she added.

"The school have been really good at trying to get work out ... I think they've really done their best.

"I think the LEA [local education authority] have some questions to answer."

Education Minister Leighton Andrews announced on Tuesday that all schools in Wales must deliver reports on their asbestos levels by next week.

'Massive issues'

He described the situation at Cwmcarn "difficult" and said councils had clear legal duties to do annual surveys.

Image caption More than 900 pupils missed classes after Cwmcarn High School shut

The NASUWT teaching union said it was glad the matter was being taken seriously.

But it warned of "massive issues" about raising funds to remove the material at a time of education cuts.

Mr Andrews said Public Health Wales was providing a health-based risk assessment, and Caerphilly council was looking at a number of options to accommodate pupils as a priority.

NASUWT Cymru has asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate the discovery of asbestos at Cwmcarn.

The union said it wanted the HSE to confirm that correct procedures are adhered to.

The HSE has said it was looking to see whether there were grounds for a full investigation.

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