Up to 9,000 pupils in Edinburgh, UK, were unable to start the new term after 17 schools, which are about 10 years old and built under a controversial public private partnership funding model were closed following serious safety concerns.
It follows the partial collapse of a wall at an Edinburgh Primary School in January this year. Header ties and metal brackets securing the exterior walls to the building framework, were found to be missing after the collapse.
Following the decision to close the schools a Scottish Parliamentary spokesman said: "The Scottish Parliament has offered to assist Edinburgh Council in accommodating displaced schoolchildren".
"In the short term I'm calling for assurances from Fife Council that our schools are safe for our pupils and teaching staff. The full details of the investigation must be published as soon as possible".
Edinburgh City Council has ordered the immediate closure of all schools built by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) consortium Edinburgh Schools Partnership – five secondaries, ten primaries, two special needs schools, plus a neighbourhood centre – pending full safety surveys.
The consortium involved in the schools construction has acknowledged the “completely unacceptable” building standards. The schools were built by one of its partners, Miller Construction, now owned by Galliford Try. Under PFI, contractors paid for the construction costs and then rented the finished building back to the public sector. The Scottish Green Party has called for a "root and branch review" of PFI contracts.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has led calls for a full inquiry into the closure of the 17 schools. She chaired a weekend meeting of the Scottish Government’s emergency resilience committee, and education secretary Angela Constance urged employers to be flexible in helping parents meet the sudden unexpected childcare needs. She said: “The immediate priority is to ensure that everything is being done to support children."
The PFI/PPP model was introduced under UK Conservative Prime Minister John Major and then it was expanded under Labour governments from 1997 but it has always attracted particular criticism in Scotland. The present Scottish Government abandoned it in favour of new structures for attracting private investment in public infrastructure, such as the non-profit distributing model, developed through the Scottish Futures Trust.