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School buildings in England to shut over concrete safety fears | #schoolsaftey

  • By Hazel Shearing
  • Education correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

Thousands of pupils in England face disruption after more than 100 schools, colleges and nurseries were told to shut buildings with concrete prone to collapse until safety work was done.

School leaders described this as a “scramble” coming only days before the start of the new term.

Some children face learning remotely or using temporary classrooms.

The government said the decision followed “new evidence” on the material.

Schools with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) must introduce new safety measures which could include propping up ceilings.

Until this is done children may have to be moved into temporary classrooms.

Two primary schools in Bradford – Crossflatts and Eldwick – are among those affected, with parts closed to pupils after the concrete was identified, the council said.

The Department for Education (DfE) said “any space or area with confirmed RAAC should no longer be open without mitigations in place”.

It has not given a timeline for replacing the RAAC, or named the places affected.

The risk of injury or death from a school building collapse was said to be “very likely and critical” by the watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) in June, after it highlighted concerns for school buildings that still contained RAAC.

This is a lightweight “bubbly” form of concrete used widely between the 1950s and mid-1990s – usually in the form of panels on flat roofs, as well as occasionally in pitched roofs, floors and walls. It has a lifespan of around 30 years.

While the vast majority of schools and colleges will be unaffected by this announcement, the NAO report identified 572 schools where this concrete might be present.

There are 156 settings in England with confirmed RAAC, according to DfE data. Of those, 52 already had safety mitigations in place, and 104 were being contacted this week about getting them in place.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the government was taking a “cautious approach”, adding that “over the summer a couple of cases have given us cause for concern”.

She said the government would publish a list of the affected schools but did not say when, telling parents: “If you don’t hear, don’t worry.”

Earlier, she said the plan would “minimise the impact on pupil learning and provide schools with the right funding and support they need to put mitigations in place to deal with RAAC”.

The Local Government Association said it had been warning about the risk of RAAC since 2018.

“Leaving this announcement until near the end of the summer holidays, rather than at the beginning, has left schools and councils with very little time to make urgent rearrangements and minimise disruption to classroom learning,” said Cllr Kevin Bentley, its senior vice-chairman.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents mostly head teachers, said the government had “failed to invest sufficiently in the school estate” and called the announcement a “scramble”.

She said it was “clearly vital”, but “the actions these schools will need to take will be hugely disruptive, and this will obviously be worrying for pupils, families and staff”.

“The government should have put in place a programme to identify and remediate this risk at a much earlier stage,” she added.

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said ministers had “been content to let this chaos continue for far too long”.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said “pupil safety is paramount but for this to come out just days before term starts is totally unacceptable”.

The government says it has been aware of RAAC in public sector buildings, including schools, since 1994.

It said it has advised schools to have “adequate contingencies” in place since 2018, in case affected buildings needed to be evacuated.

The Welsh government has said it will survey the country’s schools and colleges to check if any are made with RAAC.

Are you a teacher at an affected school? Is your child’s school impacted? Share your experiences by emailing [email protected].

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