St Aloysius 14th May

The following article appeared in the Islington Tribune on 14th May 2010 (link)

St Aloysius Teachers in ‘dangerous’ school stand-off - unfit classrooms out-of-bounds for pupils

Published: 14 May, 2010
by ROISIN GADELRAB

TEACHERS kept pupils penned in a playground and refused to allow them to enter “dangerous” classrooms claiming renovation building work has left their school unsafe.
Up to 50 members of staff were involved in the stand-off at St Aloysius College in Highgate on Friday. Many of them are now threatening strike action over conditions at the school, which is the subject of a £17million makeover under the old Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future investment scheme.

Staff said they were concerned about water dripping on electricity cables, broken fire alarms and smaller classrooms.
Contractors Balfour Beatty insist there is no danger to pupils and a safety inspection was passed on April 16.Last Thursday, 45 teachers at an NUT (National Union of Teachers) meeting voted to ballot for strike action, demanding an old building on the site, which is due to be demolished on June 20, is kept in use until they are satisfied with the new structures.

On Monday, St Aloysius headteacher Tom Mannion pledged to bring in an independent inspector to look at the site to reassure staff.
It is understood Islington Council is due to pay the company an extra £100,000 for disruptive work to take place outside school hours.
Mr Mannion confirmed the whole school was kept in the playground until morning break, when pupils were taken to “study bases”, thought to be the school’s assembly hall.

A Balfour Beatty spokesman said: “On Friday, May 7, there was a water leak in a building, which affected two classrooms. The leak was repaired later the same day.”
Unions say the work has left the school in a “dangerous condition”, citing “malfunctioning fire alarms, confused evacuation procedures, water dripping on to electrical wiring and computers”.
One teacher, who asked not to be named, said: “For two and a half years we’ve been losing staff due to the stress caused by building work. It all boiled up on Friday. The problem with the fire alarms was the last straw.”

Teachers say the new Design and Technology classrooms are L-shaped, meaning teachers can’t see all children working with tools and machinery; classrooms are smaller and windows are tiny, providing little natural light.
Balfour Beatty said the final say on the designs rests with the council.

Islington NUT assistant secretary Ken Muller said: “We hope the new Labour council will see the folly of what has been going on  and stop the demolition of the old block so it can continue to be used until the design faults in the new building have been rectified. It’s not just our members who will suffer if things go on as they are.
“Teachers are at least as concerned about the welfare of their students as they are of their own.
They were not striking last Friday, they were exercising their right not to put themselves or students in their care in danger.”

Labour’s education chief Councillor Richard Watts could not guarantee the demolition of the old building would be delayed, but said: “The safety of schoolkids is a top priority.
“I’ve been told there’s been a health and safety inspection which has found some problems but nothing unsafe. We won’t do anything that exposes children or staff to danger.”

An Islington Council spokesman said: “An independent certification process must take place to check new and refurbished schools are safe and meet all the relevant health and safety standards before they can be handed over to the local authority.
“St Aloysius College passed this inspection – but any new safety concerns raised by staff must be taken seriously. All new and refurbished buildings inevitably have some ‘snagging’ issues and the contractor and council are working with the college to address these in a timely fashion.”

The Balfour Beatty spokesman added that the decision on when to demolish the old building rests with the council, adding: “Once we identified there was a problem we went in and dealt with it.
“There was testing done to be sure there was no problem with the electrics. The health and safety of the communities in which we operate is always of utmost importance to Balfour Beatty.”

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