Education ministry refuses to give toll The Ministry of Education pledged yesterday to crack down hard on anybody responsible for shoddy school buildings in the wake of the May 12 earthquake but refused to say how many staff and students died in the flimsy structures. Spokesman Wang Xuming said the ministry had ordered safety assessments of all school buildings on the mainland, with special focus on buildings in quake-affected areas. 'The ministry plans to work with construction administrations to organise experts to assess school buildings in quake areas, and immediately stop the use of substandard or dangerous classrooms,' Mr Wang said. He said the cost of evacuating and relocating the students would 'be undertaken by educational administrations at various levels and by the central government'. Mr Wang said regulators were working on new construction standards for greater quake resistance, based on the principle that all new classrooms should be built to higher standards than civic buildings. The ministry has also drafted a temporary classroom plan for students and teachers to resume classes in shelters and tents. Educational official Gao Hong said half of the elementary and middle schools in the hardest-hit areas were back in class. Among the 65,080 confirmed dead were an estimated 1,300 children and teachers from Beichuan Middle School, crushed to death as their school buildings collapsed. But Mr Wang and other education officials refused to specify the number of classroom casualties, saying it could be 'updated anytime'. Mr Wang also refused to say why so many buildings failed, insisting that 'the cause of collapses is a complex issue ... and conclusion should be only made upon further analysis and in-depth assessment'. But he did admit that some of the collapsed school buildings had 'inherent design flaws'. 'According to Sichuan educational government information, a number of the school buildings that collapsed in the province were built long ago and were obsolete, built one or two decades ago when quality supervision regulations were absent, and this is one important cause,' Mr Wang said. The ministry will send teams of counsellors to the quake zone to help students and children traumatised by their experience in the past two weeks. Mr Wang said the ministry had plans for long-term psychological care for these students but more qualified staff were needed. Premier Wen Jiabao vowed that new schools would be built in the safest and most stable places. But this did not satisfy critics who said that even in some of the hardest-hit areas, government buildings remained standing. At Beichuan Middle School in Beichuan county, two buildings built in 1998 and 2003 caved in during the quake while another building - believed to have been built in the 1980s - sustained little damage. Huang Yin, an English-language teacher at the school, said teachers had long been concerned over the poor quality of the school buildings because workers had been forced to speed up construction work to meet a drive for school expansion in the past few years. 'The fifth floor of the main building was actually added later on top of the four-storey structure without any assessment,' Mr Huang said. Tan Zuoren, from the Sichuan-based Green-River Environmental Protection Foster Association, said the public had a right to ask why so many school buildings collapsed in the quake, and 'the government and the public must work together to find an answer'. Mr Tan said local governments should start an inspection of school buildings to see if there are any other shoddily built buildings.