Beijing has vowed to hold lower-level officials to account for substandard schools in the future if such buildings result in deaths in natural disasters. The warning came on Sunday as activists and parents have been pressing for investigations into some poorly built schools in quake-stricken areas in Sichuan, which they believe to be responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. An official with an inter-agency taskforce promoting safe schools admitted that the improvement of buildings would have a direct impact on the well-being of students and teachers, and on social stability. The authorities will launch a nationwide survey of schools, particularly in areas susceptible to natural calamities, to either fortify the buildings or move them to safer areas by the end of 2011. Official statistics show that more than 87,000 people were killed in the magnitude-8 quake in May last year, including 5,335 students. However, activists estimated the student death toll could be much higher. Authorities were reluctant to publish the tally of students killed, as they feared parents could use the figures to vent their anger over alleged substandard buildings. Authorities have consistently blamed the sheer intensity of the quake, not shoddy buildings, for the high number of student fatalities. Furthermore, they have been clamping down on volunteer groups and parents trying to tally student deaths and collecting evidence regarding the poor quality of school construction. Parents complain that they are intimidated by police and national security personnel for speaking out. Yan Wenjun - whose son, a fourth-grader at Xinjian Primary School, was killed along with more than 200 other pupils - said he still hoped for justice over the substandard schools, but hope was fading. 'But it's been useless to do what we've done,' he said. 'We couldn't care less about what they are planning to do.' However, some observers believe the introduction of an accountability system for schools in areas prone to natural disasters has underscored officials' concern over the quality of buildings and, to some degree, a collective guilt within the ranks. On May 8, State Councillor Liu Yandong reaffirmed the government's commitment to safe schools. Wang Xiaodong, a rights activist, said he considered the official count of student deaths in the quake this month a step forward in addressing parents' grievances. 'Such gestures actually prove that local officials are somehow to blame for the collapses of the schools.' Mr Wang said that although Beijing had declared it would now hold officials accountable, that did not mean it should forgo accountability over previous problems.