More schools with dangerous concrete could still be identified, minister admits

Building safety fears have caused schools to scramble to rearrange the start of term, ITV News' Carl Dinnen reports

There could be more schools built with dangerous concrete not yet identified, an education minister has admitted, a day after more than 100 potentially unsafe facilities were told to close or put mitigations in place before they can re-open.

Thousands of pupils faced a disrupted start to the academic year as more than 104 schools and colleges were told to partially or fully close buildings just days before children were due to return to classes after the summer holidays.

But schools minister Nick Gibb told ITV News there's "perhaps a few more" built using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) - a potentially dangerous, lightweight, building material that was predominantly used in roofs between the 1960s and the 1980s.

He said the government had sent surveys to 22,500 schools in England and the "vast majority" do not have Raac but "some" still have not returned their questionnaires and their buildings could contain the dangerous concrete.

Freedom of information requests sent by ITV News revealed 1,466 schools had not yet checked whether there was Raac in their buildings.

At the suggestion that some parents will be worried about sending there children to places which could contain Raac, Mr Gibb said "they can be absolutely assured" that schools have been given the right advice.

"We've been giving schools advice about Raac since 2018. They know how to identify Raac and they have very clear advice about how to manage Raac safely.

"We're going one step further and saying where we have identified Raac, we want to take out of use just for a precautionary measure Raac that is considered in good condition as well as RAAC that's considered to be in poor condition to make sure children are safe."

The government was under pressure to publish a full list of the affected schools.

What will happen at schools with Raac?

A total of 156 schools are confirmed to have Raac inside their buildings and 52 of these have put mitigations in place, leaving 104 which have been forced to partially or fully shut until works can be completed.

The Department for Education (DfE) said a minority of the state facilities may have to move completely and some children may be forced back into pandemic-style remote learning.

Official guidance was issued to schools, school nurseries and colleges – which have been told they will have to fund their own emergency accommodation.

The Department for Education said a “minority” will need to “either fully or partially relocate” to alternative accommodation while safety measures are installed.

Space in nearby schools, community centres or in an “empty local office building” was recommended for the “first few weeks” while buildings are secured with structural supports.

Schools were told moving to pandemic-style remote education should only be considered as a “last resort and for a short period”.

Schools suspected of containing Raac will be surveyed in a matter of weeks.

Some 52 of the 156 educational settings containing the concrete have taken protective steps already this year. Credit: ITV News

If Raac is confirmed, the DfE has promised that “appropriate rapid action is taken” which could include funding to remove any immediate risks and, where necessary, arranging temporary buildings to be put in place.

Raac is a lightweight building material used from the 1950s up to the mid-1990s, but now assessed to be at risk of collapse. It is believed to have a lifespan of around 30 years.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report warned that around 24,000 school buildings, or 38% of the total, were beyond their estimated design lifespan.

ITV News' Pablo Taylor visits Parks Primary School in Leicester, which has had to partially close due to Raac

Parks Primary School in Leicester, which reopened at a temporary site four days ago, has been severely affected.

Headteacher Caroline Evans told ITV News that Raac is contained in most of the school's roof, meaning a corridor is being used as the staff room.

Inspectors labelled the situation there "critical" and the local authority quickly relocated it to accommodation near the school, but it is not clear when they will be allowed to return.

What is the situation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

  • Wales

School and college buildings in Wales will also be surveyed for Raac but the Welsh Government confirmed that so far there have been "no reported cases" of the concrete in education buildings across the country.

However, it said it has commissioned a survey of "all state funded schools and colleges which will identify any structures suspected" of containing Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete".

Posting on X, formerly Twitter, the opposition in Wales were critical of the Welsh Government.

Laura Ann Jones MS, the Welsh Conservatives Shadow Minister for Education, said: “Labour Education Minister needs to urgently review the situation in Wales, follow the lead of the UK Conservatives Govt and identify at-risk school buildings."

  • Scotland

The Scottish Government has confirmed work is under way to fully understand the presence of Raac across the school estate in Scotland, with local authorities expected to prioritise remedial work.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats in May revealed the substance was present in at least 37 schools in Scotland.

The data showed the light and bubbly form of precast concrete was present in nine schools in Dumfries and Galloway, seven in Aberdeen, six in Clackmannanshire and five in West Lothian.

Two schools in Dundee, the Highlands and North Lanarkshire were also found to contain the material, as well as single schools in Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, East Lothian and Perth and Kinross. A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This is an issue the Scottish Government takes very seriously and so we have been working with partner bodies to understand the scope and nature of what we are dealing with."

It added: "For those schools where Raac is found, appropriate mitigation plans have and will be put in place to ensure the safety of pupils and staff. Ministers are clear that they expect local authorities to prioritise this work."

  • Northern Ireland

A survey has been commissioned by the Department of Education to carry out structural surveys to see if the concrete has been used in schools in Northern Ireland.commissioned the Education Authority to carry out structural surveys to ascertain the extent to which Raac may be present in schools across Northern Ireland.

"This work is being taken forward as a matter of urgency to ensure that any necessary mitigations are put in place promptly.

“Schools will be contacted by the Education Authority as work progresses.”

News of dangerous schools sparks anger

The DfE has been considering Raac as a potential issue since late 2018 but the timing of the decision to issue guidance just days before the start of term has angered unions.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan told broadcasters: “Most parents should not be worried about this at all.”

But shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “We haven’t seen the full list of schools affected. We don’t know where they are, ministers should come clean with parents and set out the full scale of the challenge that we’re facing.”

National Education Union general secretary Daniel Kebede said: “It is absolutely disgraceful, and a sign of gross government incompetence, that a few days before the start of term, 104 schools are finding out that some or all of their buildings are unsafe and cannot be used.

“To add insult to injury the government states in its guidance that it will not be covering the costs of emergency temporary accommodation or additional transport.”

The state of England’s schools buildings – as well as problems with RAAC – were highlighted in a report in June by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO’s report said 700,000 pupils were learning in schools that required major rebuilding or refurbishment.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the “timing of this couldn’t be worse”.

“What we are seeing here are the very real consequences of a decade of swingeing cuts to spending on school buildings,” he said.

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