Independent report into school closures published

An independent report into the closure of 17 Edinburgh schools has been published today (9 February 2017).

The School Closures Report (PDF 3.8MB) was commissioned by Chief Executive Andrew Kerr last summer after the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary School and subsequent closure of 17 schools.

It was led by respected construction and procurement industry expert, Professor John Cole CBE, who will present his report at a special City of Edinburgh Council meeting today.

The inquiry had nine remits, which included:

  • reasons for the wall collapse;
  • use of private finance for building projects;
  • the Council’s role in providing quality assurance of the buildings;
  • contractual arrangements between the Council and Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) who manage and run the schools on the Council’s behalf; and
  • any recommendations for the Council, other bodies and the wider industry.

Professor Cole interviewed a wide range of people for the report including: representatives from those who built the schools, ESP, architects, structural engineers, parents, teachers and former and current Council staff from various departments. He also took evidence from professionals and experts in the procurement and construction industries.

Some of the key findings from the report, which runs to over 250 pages, include:

  • the collapse of the wall was due to poor construction and inadequate supervision;
  • insufficient independent quality assurance and poor record keeping by the Council and ESP;
  • ineffective quality assurance measures within the construction industry;
  • the Council made the correct decision to close the 17 schools;
  • the alternative education arrangements put in place for over 8,300 pupils was a ‘remarkable feat’;
  • the issues identified in Edinburgh are likely to be more widespread

The report contains many recommendations for the Council and other bodies, both public and private, as well as the construction industry.  These relate to areas such as: procurement, construction, training and recruitment, the role of the building standards and independent certifiers and the sharing of information.

The Chief Executive will now draw up an action plan specific to the Council recommendations so that they are all addressed individually.  

Andrew Kerr said: “Professor Cole commands respect in both construction and procurement fields which has been borne out in the thoroughness and quality of his independent investigation and the report before Council today.

“We set out clear and thorough terms of reference so he could identify the reasons for the wall collapse at Oxgangs and the subsequent building faults that forced us to close the 17 schools.

“The report pulls no punches and makes clear what went wrong, the reasons for it and where responsibility lay.  Clearly there are lessons for the Council and I will now be drawing up an action plan to take our recommendations forward to ensure everyone can have confidence in the safety of all of our buildings.

“The Council, our public and private sector partners both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, need to take on board the issues raised and address the concerns highlighted in the report as they have far-reaching implications for the construction industry.”

He added: “As always, our overriding priority was the safety of the pupils and staff and I am pleased that Professor Cole recognises that our decision to close the schools was well founded and that he acknowledged the scale of the alternative educational arrangements required – and ultimately delivered.

“I want to thank parents once again for their patience last year and the outstanding efforts of teachers and other Council staff who pulled out all the stops to ensure our children’s education could continue.

“I would also like to thank Professor Cole and his team for their hard work on this important inquiry.  We must ensure that the highest possible standards are adhered to when it comes to future construction projects and ensure that nothing like this can happen again.”

The Council has already started a full survey of all buildings across the estate which will be complete by the end of the year.  This will be followed by a five year rolling programme of regular follow up surveys.

Issues raised in the report regarding ‘fire stopping’ in the 17 schools are being rectified and the Council has employed a fire safety expert to ensure all buildings remain safe for occupancy.

Additional information:

With a 30 year career in public service, Professor Cole, an architect by profession, has specialised in seeking to improve the quality of design, procurement and construction of new buildings in the public sector.  In so doing he has been responsible for the development, dissemination and implementation of a series of innovative and highly successful procurement models.

Major infrastructure projects with which he is currently involved include the delivery of a new £180m educational campus to provide six secondary schools on a single shared site in Omagh and the development of a new £600m paediatric hospital in Dublin. In both cases he was appointed by the respective Ministers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to bring his expertise to these innovative and complex projects.

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