Report stresses importance of clerk of works role

A report into the defective construction of 17 schools in Edinburgh has stressed the important role that clerks of works play in ensuring that buildings are properly constructed.

In January 2016, a large section of a brick wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh collapsed during a storm onto an area where children normally played. Nine tonnes of masonry fell in the incident, which could have had catastrophic consequences.

The incident was so serious that the school was closed immediately and other schools built at the same time were examined for similar defects. In total 17 schools in Edinburgh were closed, affecting 7,600 pupils, while detailed investigations and remedial work took place.

An independent inquiry was set up under Professor John Cole to investigate the causes of the failure, and the final report was published in February 2017.

The report found that poor construction techniques were to blame, compounded by a lack of oversight, scrutiny and quality assurance during the construction process, where having a clerk of works may have made a difference.

On buildings where an external brick façade is part of the design, the facade should be connected with metal lies to the inner wall, which is often made of block work.

However, at Oxgangs, a lack of co-ordination and oversight between different contractors combined with time pressures led to the brick work and block work being put up with too few metal ties, which were not sufficiently embedded in either wall.  These factors meant that the brick outer skin was not secure.

The investigations discovered similar defects were present across the 17 schools checked. A number of other defects were also identified, including insufficient fire stopping.

The independent inquiry found that the procurement process used in Edinburgh was at fault, because different contractors were responsible for building different schools across the 17 checked.  The root cause lay in that no-one, including the client, was checking that the schools were being built to the correct construction standards, which is the role that a clerk of works provides.

This may be a much wider problem.  The author of the report, Professor Cole, stated: “It would be naïve to assume that the lack of quality control evidenced in the construction of the walls of the Edinburgh schools is limited either to Edinburgh or to school buildings.”

If you are having a building constructed, you should consider the use of a building clerk of works, which can be provided by Aegis, to check that contractors are following the specification.

In the example of Oxgangs, a building clerk of works would have checked walls ties prior to the walls being finished and sealed.

To discuss how Aegis can support you or your organisation, please call 01772 736 522 or email

The school closures report can be read in full here.