Wakefield Council admits making mistakes over defective Sandal Magna school building, but says it's 'working tirelessly' to put things right

Wakefield Council has admitted to making mistakes over its handling of a leaky school roof, which has disrupted lessons for pupils for the last 11 years.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 2:00 pm
The school building was finished in 2010 but has suffered from a defective roof ever since. Wakefield Council has said a new watertight roof is on track to be put up by September.

The findings of an independent inquiry into the defective building at Sandal Magna Academy, published on Tuesday, were critical of the council and several contractors involved.

Despite being built in 2010, the primary school remains without a fully watertight roof, although the council insists it is "on track" to have a new one fully installed by September.

The inquiry found that the council was slow to carry out extensive surveys of the building, which would have revealed further damage sooner, and it could have taken a more "active role" in scrutinising its contractors.

Senior councillor Margaret Isherwood said the council could have "handled things better" historically, but that progress had been made over the last three years.

The local authority has accepted the findings, but in an interview on Wednesday senior figures said they were "working tirelessly" to put things right.

They also pointed to the report's backing for their current approach to the issue and its assessment that it has a competent firm now working on repairs.

Councillor Margaret Isherwood, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: "Mistakes were made. I don’t think the council isn’t holding its hand up and saying mistakes weren’t made.

"Things should have been handled better. We have had children missing lessons and staff frustrated in their efforts to teach.

Beate Wagner, the council's corporate director for children and young people, said the inquiry had backed the approach the authority was taking now.

"And really there’s no excuse for what went on.

"But we have progressed things now where we can provide a school that’s safe for our children to enjoy their education.

"Going forward, hopefully we will learn from this."

The inquiry's report said that the designs for the school building were "complicated" and that as a result construction workers struggled to build it.

Around 16 different companies were named in the report as being involved in either building, managing and maintaining the school's structure and a picture of bickering between different parties at several stages has emerged.

Two of the senior contractors involved in trying to repair the roof have gone bust. Although the council has previously ruled out pursuing legal action over the issues, it now says it is looking at making claims.

Beate Wagner, the council's corporate director for children and young people, said: "There were some laudable intentions in terms of what people were trying to do with the design, but it was extremely complicated.

"I think it was entirely reasonable (for the council) to go back to the people who built the school and ask them to put it right.

"All these judgements were made in the context of the time these things happened.

"We absolutely want to learn and there’s things we can learn from the oversight of these complex projects.

"But what we take comfort from is the fact that the report really endorses the approach we’ve taken now."

Senior figures at the council have said that a change of leadership within its children's services in 2018, after a damning Ofsted report, has helped improve its efforts to fix the serious structural issues at the school.

The inquiry suggested Sandal Magna's leadership were unhappy with the way the council made a decision over releasing more funding for the roof repairs in March of this year.

But the council insisted that although there were "historical issues", they enjoy a good relationship with the school now.

They've also denied accusations from the authority's opposition Tory group that they are not open or transparent enough.

Glynn Humphries, the council's service director for the environment, said: "From my perspective, we are open and honest. The only time we wouldn’t release information is if it was commercially sensitive.

"We’ve worked tirelessly and I think we’re on a trajectory now where we’ll get a good outcome for the school.

"This is where we find ourselves today. We can speak about what happened historically but I think with regards to the contracts people were doing their best.

"Unfortunately when contractors go bankrupt it does cause a problem.

"We’ve tried to put the energy into getting things right and learning the lessons from it. That’s what we’ve been trying to do."

Asked if it could be guaranteed that the a new watertight roof will be installed for pupils by September as planned, Ms Wagner said: "We are on track.

"We’ve no reason to doubt that it will remain on track.

"Having said all of that unexpected things can always happen, but all of the right elements are in place to deliver it."

Local Democracy Reporting Service