Fire hazards and a weak roof: Safety failings at Barking school revealed

St Margaret's Church of England Primary School. Picture: Ken Mears

St Margaret's Church of England Primary School. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Fire hazards, a weak roof and potentially faulty foundations led a Barking primary school to move about 200 children off its grounds, files reveal.

Following surveys, St Margaret’s Church of England Primary School is teaching Year 3, 4 and 5 pupils in rooms rented from nearby Northbury and Gascoigne primary schools.

“It was a recommendation not to have the children on site at this time,” said interim headteacher David Huntingford in a letter sent to parents last month.

With the school in North Road now in a legal dispute with contractors, independent reports and correspondence obtained by the Post show a catalogue of concerns about the building.

“Intrusive investigations” had uncovered “key concerns”, read Mr Huntingford’s letter, with work needed to the doors, walls, windows and — “most importantly” — the roof.

These reports related to “fire safety and structural issues”, he wrote in another message dated February 26.

In November 2016, inspectors signed the building certificate for the school’s new two-storey extension and first floor mezzanine.

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According to a structural inspection, by February this year “urgent” works were needed to support the extension’s roof and boundary wall.

“Workmanship is generally poor with ad hoc notchings and misaligned screws,” noted structural engineers Inertia Structures Ltd.

Their inspector pointed out “loose” bolts on the roof that “can be turned easily by hand” and “missing” fixings.

“It is recommended that the rooms should not be used until the bearing support has been strengthened and defects with the joinery are made good,” he wrote.

He recommended the ceiling of the first floor and mezzanine be removed and “all defects” fixed, though there were “no signs of structural damage”.

In an earlier, “non-instrusive” inspection, a structural engineer found foundations at “risk of subsidence” with “insufficient bearing support” to the extension roof and first floor, a leaked email details.

“During our discussion you advised that there is spare capacity in the accommodation at the school,” a surveyor at Synergy Construction and Property Consultants told Elaine McDonald-James, chief operating officer at Genesis Education Trust, the academy trust St Margaret’s formed last year with two schools in Walthamstow.

As such, he wrote, she “should consider” taking the extension, mezzanine classroom and children’s kitchen “out of use” for repairs.

The school closed eight classrooms, according to a newsletter three days later. Parents were told affected pupils would remain offsite until May half term at the earliest.

A fire risk assessment, signed March 15, reported a “moderate” threat to life should there be a fire at the school, spotting 20 fire safety “issues” — one of which was considered “high or very high”.

“The premises does not have a range of suitable fire safety measures in place,” noted health and safety consultants MetroSRM.

Their inspector said safety measures were “lacking”, and so, “present a risk to the safety of occupants”.

The inspector wrote that about 200 pupils were removed, seemingly after an officer from London Fire Brigade (LFB) visited the premises on request, and recommended the rooms be “restricted”.

Yet the Brigade confirmed no prohibition or restriction notices were issued for the building, which would have closed the classrooms.

LFB’s inspecting officer “declined to issue one” — “a serious omission”, read the report.

“The school should not have been restricted, unless the Fire Brigade were willing to issue a written notice fully detailing the items they considered as contraventions,” it noted.

A spokeswoman for LFB said: “The area was already under restriction from the structural issues at the time of audit.

“The restriction was imposed by the building structural survey not a fire safety audit.”

A notification of deficiencies, however, was made to address fire safety concerns, she added.

A spokesman for Genesis Education Trust declined to name the extension’s original contractor, for risk of “prejudicing the [legal] case”.

All eight classrooms were being used for teaching at the time of the closure, he added, with available teaching space used up before the remaining pupils were moved offsite.

The move, he said, was decided following a risk assessment carried out by the trust.

“At all times the trustees continued to seek and act on profession advice in consultation with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and the Diocese of Chelmsford,” the spokesman added.