According to the BBC £10m has been paid in compensation to people who developed illnesses because of asbestos in school buildings in England.
The figures show that in the past 10 years, 32 councils in England have settled asbestos claims from former school staff and pupils.
The shocking facts have been obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to all local authorities in England and Wales, by Lucie Stephens, whose mother Sue was a reception teacher and died of mesothelioma – a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Ms Stephens has also started a petition to fulfil her mother’s legacy of wanting asbestos removed from all schools.
The figures, taken from 135 English councils who responded, show asbestos is known to be present in at least 12,600 council-run schools. But the actual number of schools that contain asbestos is likely to be higher as many are now academies and not included in the figures.
The data also shows that in the five years between 2011 and 2016 there were 99 reported incidents of asbestos exposure in school premises, however the National Union of Teachers (NUT) says this is likely to be a massive understatement as these are just known potential exposure incidents.
According to the NUT, up to 300 adults die each year because of exposure to asbestos while at school.
Of the councils that responded, 13 said they held no information about which schools in their area contained asbestos, while others said that full responsibility of the management of asbestos is the responsibility of the actual schools themselves.
Ten councils also refused to disclose any information about the number of asbestos claims they had settled – meaning the £10m compensation figure is likely to be even higher.
It has also been revealed that there is no uniform approach in place to monitor the presence of asbestos in schools in England.
Secretariat of the Asbestos in Schools group, John McClean said: “What this information reveals is that the Government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools is simply not working and is putting children and staff at risk.”
The government says it is investing £23bn to improve school buildings.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The health and safety of children and staff in our schools is vital – that’s why we are investing £23bn in school buildings by 2021.
“This will help ensure asbestos is managed safely and that the amount in school buildings continues to reduce over time”, they added.