More than 100 schools are scrambling to get ready for the start of term after being told to shut buildings that were at risk of collapse, as Tom Sheldrick reports
Labour is planning to force a vote to compel the Government to reveal information about the scale of use of a lightweight concrete in schools after classrooms were closed days before the new term.
Ministers are facing calls for transparency over the extent to which reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) is affecting public buildings after experts warned the problem may not be limited to the education sector.
Labour said it plans to put forward a humble address – an arcane parliamentary mechanism sometimes used to demand papers from Government departments – to force the publication of a list of affected schools.
More than 100 schools and colleges have been told by the Department for Education (DfE) to fully or partially shut buildings due to the existence of Raac, just as pupils prepare to return after the summer holidays.
It follows the collapse last week of a beam previously thought to have been safe.
The Government has said a list of affected sites will be published “in due course” but has not said when.
Schools minister Nick Gibb admitted more classrooms could be forced to shut but the Government has insisted it acted decisively this week when new concerns came to light.
Professor Chris Goodier, a leading expert on RAAC at Lougborough University, previously explained the difference between RAAC and modern concrete to ITV News' Daniel Hewitt
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “It’s time ministers were transparent about their handling of this debacle: if they still refuse to publish these documents and give parents the reassurances they deserve about the risks to their children’s safety, then we will force a vote in Parliament next week.”
Engineers have warned that the problem could be far wider, with hospitals, prisons, courts and offices potentially at risk due to the use of Raac up to the mid-1990s.
Raac is thought to be present in at least 34 hospitals across England, with the Government having pledged to replace seven of the worst affected by 2030.
What is RAAC?
Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) is a lightweight form of concrete.
The way that RAAC is created makes it weaker than the normal building material.
There is no coarse aggregate - for example gravel and crushed stones - in RAAC, this is what gives concrete its strength.
Instead fine aggregate - such as sand and stone particles - is combined with chemicals to create gas bubbles, and heat to cure the compound.
This makes it relatively weak.
In some schools roofs are constructed using RAAC planks, which are long slim blocks of the material.
What will happen to schools?
As the impact of RAAC is varied, not every school will be impacted in the same way.
In some cases schools could be temporarily closed or one part of the school will shut, such as a single classroom.
In most cases, children will be able to continue attending school as normal.
Schools and other education settings will let parents know directly if there is any change to the start of term.
Most schools will be unaffected, and children should attend school as normal in September, unless.
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