SHE was a “passionate and dedicated” teacher who lived to help her students.
But little did Marion Potts know that during her time in the classroom she was being exposed to deadly asbestos – which would go on to claim her life.
It is thought to be the first case of its kind in south-west Hampshire.
Mrs Potts, known to family and friends as Jane, died at Southampton General Hospital in June of mesothelioma, a cancer associated with the substance, an inquest heard.
The 63-year-old, from Brockenhurst, worked in schools across the country throughout her career, including Hardley School in Holbury – now the New Forest Academy – and Romsey School, where she was head of English until she retired two years ago.
But the inquest could not pinpoint where in the country or when she was exposed to asbestos and education bosses insist both of the Hampshire schools where she worked are safe.
Southampton Coroner’s Court heard that the only place Mrs Potts could have come in contact with asbestos was in school walls, where it can be released by something as simple as putting up a display with drawing pins.
Now there have been calls for the substance to be removed from schools.
Coroner Keith Wiseman said: “It’s certainly the first case that I have dealt with but I understand it’s turning into a matter of major concern.
I hope all the necessary steps are taken in the future to ensure the elimination of this substance.”
Mr Wiseman added: “Mrs Potts particularly mentioned a variety of occasions such as basic matters like putting up a display with drawing pins where this material would come out of the walls or when they were damaged by pupils.
“It looks as if Mrs Potts was very unlucky during her working life as this is the only possible asbestos exposure identified.”
He recorded a verdict of death from an industrial disease.
Only last year an all-party Parliamentary group warned that 75 per cent of schools nationwide expose children and staff to the material and more than 140 UK teachers have died from mesothelioma in the past decade.
Mrs Potts’ husband Michael said he was considering legal action.
He said: “These buildings are 50 years old and asbestos will come out because kids are always running around, banging into things and people stick things into the wall.
“She was never made aware of these dangers. That annoys me beyond belief and I intend to make a nuisance of myself as there has been a lot of complacency.”
Former colleagues have paid tribute to Mrs Potts.
Jonathan de Sausmarez, executive head teacher at The Romsey School, said: “Jane was a very good teacher, very thorough and very professional. She cared very much for the students, was extremely passionate about her subject and always wanted every child to do well.”
Asbestos 'is a huge problem'
ASBESTOS is closely associated with Second Consortium of Local Authorities (SCOLA) schools, prefab buildings developed as a temporary measure in the 1960s in response to the baby boom.
There are 456 school buildings of SCOLA construction across Hampshire and work is under way to strip asbestos from walls.
Pete Sopowski, Southampton rep for the National Union of Teachers, said teachers were very concerned about the situation.
He said: “There’s a huge problem in schools because asbestos is there and is being managed.
“It’s a case of which schools don’t have it rather than which do. “The best thing to do is to have it totally removed but the Government doesn’t want to pay for it.
“It would create jobs as well as protect staff and youngsters. Westminster will pay to have it removed from the Houses of Parliament but not from schools, it seems.”
The call comes two years after Hampshire County Council launched a ten-year strategy to tackle deteriorating SCOLA schools.
Leader Roy Perry said the authority had been “managing” asbestos since 1997 and that a detailed survey of schools commenced in 2005 with regular checks still carried out with any damage acted on “as a matter of urgency”.
Asbestos-containing materials in a sound condition were left in place to avoid risking health through disturbing it during removal. He added that standards of work were monitored by the UK Accreditation Service as well as an in-house team.
He added: “We inspected all asbestos-containing materials at the New Forest Academy – formerly Hardley School – in August and can reassure staff, governors, parents and pupils that the school site is safe and that there is no risk to health, providing the materials remain intact and undisturbed.”
“Romsey School will have been checked by the council from 2005 onwards, prior to becoming an
academy, and it would have received a clean bill of health as we are not aware of any problem
There are also SCOLA schools in Southampton which contain the substance.
City council education boss Sarah Bogle said the council wanted to get rid of asbestos from all schools but did not have the funding.
Cllr Bogle insisted the council was on top of the issue but could not confirm how many schools in
Southampton contain asbestos.
She said: “We produce surveys on all our schools so we know where asbestos is, if there is any.
“It’s not harmful unless it is released like when there is repair work or things are moved, so we
make sure we always have risk assessments in place and we remove it if necessary.”
Asbestos was widely used in the UK as a building material up until 1985 when the use of most types was banned.
It was completely banned from new buildings in 1999.