NEARLY all children in the Basingstoke area are being taught in schools containing asbestos.

Now one leading head teacher has called for the buildings to be stripped of the potentially lethal substance.

An investigation by The Gazette has revealed that all but two of the borough’s schools contain asbestos in some form.

The most serious type of the mineral – blue asbestos or crocidolite – is present in 11 of the borough’s 76 state schools.

Asbestos was widely used in the UK for building insulation up until 1985 when the use of products containing certain types of asbestos was banned.

The substance can be lethal if it is disturbed and fibres are inhaled, leading to asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Brighton Hill Community College, in Brighton Way – Basingstoke’s largest secondary school with about 1,300 pupils – has all three forms of asbestos present – crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile.

Head teacher David Eyre told The Gazette he believes asbestos should be removed from all Hampshire schools.

He said: "Having asbestos at the school makes life very difficult in terms of drilling holes into the walls and moving things around because it might be disturbed.

"These are schools full of children and I believe passionately that their health should be put before money and that all school buildings should be stripped of asbestos.

"I think it's a nonsense that Hampshire County Council does not remove the substance from school buildings. They should at least be on a par safety-wise with office buildings."

The scale of asbestos in Basingstoke's schools was revealed by a Freedom of Information request submitted by The Gazette to Hampshire County Council, which manages the buildings.

Cranbourne Business and Enterprise College, in Wessex Close, Basingstoke, contains amosite and chrysotile. It was the scene of a fire in an arts storeroom on June 11 and head teacher Betty Elkins said the blaze had disturbed asbestos.Mrs Elkins said: "The first thing that happened after the fire was we checked the asbestos register, found out it was in that block and stopped pupils going near it.

"We've had to install bits of false ceilings in many of the classrooms because we use electronic whiteboards. We needed blinds to keep the light out but we weren't allowed to drill into the ceiling.

"Having the substance present can be very obstructive and it also means that any work we want done is much more expensive and takes much more time."

The Health and Safety Executive has revealed that 228 teachers died from asbestos-related diseases between 1991 and 2005. The executive estimates the substance is responsible for 4,000 deaths per year.

The only schools in the borough that do not have asbestos are Great Binfields Primary School and Everest Community College and this is due to them being built after asbestos regulations came into place.

Ron Clooney, national executive member for the central southern England branch of the teacher's union NASUWT, said: "This is a major issue and it shouldn't even be up for debate that this asbestos needs to be removed.

"It's very dangerous. There have been hundreds of deaths across the country as a result of asbestos. All it takes is one drawing pin to be stuck into an asbestos wallboard for between 5,000 to 10,000 cancerous fibres to be released, and just one fibre can be deadly.

"Hampshire County Council has an education surplus of £40million and that could easily cover the cost of removing the substance and potentially saving children's lives."

Hampshire County Council said it holds an asbestos register for every building, which informs building workers and is available to the public.

Hampshire County Council chief executive Andrew Smith said: "Hampshire County Council's education estate contains a wide range of asbestos-containing materials in varying quantities at different sites.

"All known asbestos materials are inspected through a comprehensive re-inspection programme and maintained in good condition, so that any risk is minimised.

"We closely monitor the quantity and type of asbestos in a material and take this into consideration as part of the risk assessment, which helps to form the basis of our programme of action and monitoring."

Click HERE to find out whether your school has asbestos.