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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 14:33 GMT
School says its canteen is health risk

canteen The building dates back to the 1940s

A secondary school is planning to ask the Health and Safety Executive to rule on whether its canteen is a hazard to pupils, as the head and governors believe.

The Abbey School in Faversham, Kent, has a 50-year-old canteen building with single-skin walls and an asbestos roof underpinned with hardboard.

canteen Paint flakes off over the serving area
It is so damp there is mould growing on it. The kitchen area has an open drain and the storerooms are damp.

"Paint just doesn't stay on the walls for long without flaking," said the headteacher, Peter Walker.

"I picked a piece of paint about one square foot in size off a wall this morning. You paint it one month and in two months' time it starts to flake off again quite badly.

Packed lunches

"Obviously some of that takes places over where food is prepared and served. It's just not acceptable."

Many of his pupils chose to bring packed lunches or go home for lunch, he said.

Mr Walker is angry that the school has been criticised by school inspectors from Ofsted for failing to do anything about the state of the building - one of the points for action they identified in a previous visit in 1995.

"We and the school governors are not at all happy about this because it's a local authority problem," he said.

Kent County Council are well aware of the problem but say they have other priorities.

The canteen was visited on Tuesday by environmental health officers from the local Swale Borough Council. A spokeswoman said their report would be sent to the county council, but declined to say what their recommendation would be.


To try to force the county's arm, Mr Walker is recommending to a meeting of governors on Thursday evening that the Health and Safety Executive be called in to rule on whether the canteen should be closed.

canteen Facilities are crude
That would cause another headache in finding an alternative - the school hall would probably have to be pressed into service, with meals being brought in from outside the school.

"But I have to have due regard to the health and safety of the pupils, and I can't allow children to eat in conditions like that," Mr Walker said.

"If the Health and Safety Executive say it is safe then OK, we go ahead, and keep pressing the county council to get it replaced - but when you see mould appearing as well as damp you have to be concerned."

He favours replacing the canteen with a community hall for school use during the day and public use out of school hours.

Paul Carter, Kent's director of education, said the canteen had not been replaced as there were more pressing concerns in the county.

"In Kent we have a poor quality stock and need 200m to bring all our schools up to an acceptable standard. This year we hope to get funding of 7m.

"It comes down to priorities and making the best use of resources."

Mr Carter added that he was trying to form a cross-party group to lobby the government to set out a maintenance programme for Kent schools.

He wants 15-20m to be set aside every year for the next 10 years to bring them up to standard.

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See also:
13 Jan 00 |  Education
Video reveals crumbling classrooms
25 Nov 98 |  Education
5.4bn for school buildings

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