Special school in Southend forced to close immediately over fears dangerous concrete could collapse

Kingsdown School in Southend Credit: ITV News

A special educational needs school has been told to close immediately following concerns the concrete used to build it could collapse, only days before the start of the new term.

Staff at Kingsdown School in Southend have been telephoning parents informing them not to bring their children to school next week.

The school is unable to access the vital equipment within its main building needed to run the school safely and some children may be forced back into pandemic-style remote learning.

Headteacher Louise Robinson said: “Instead of preparing to welcome our students back to class, we’re having to call parents to have very difficult conversations about the fact the school is closed next week.

“We’re hoping that a solution can be found that allows us to open the school, at least partially, but that entirely relies on ensuring the safety of our pupils and staff, and approval by DfE.”

Has your school been affected by the government's announcement? Email anglianews@itv.com

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

The Department for Education has ordered more than 100 schools in England with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) to close, until safety measures are introduced.

The material is a lightweight concrete that was used in building construction between the 1950s and 1990s and is weaker than traditional concrete.

Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said “I have had a conversation with the schools minister about this issue.

"In Harwich and North Essex, there are eight schools with an identified problem, and two further schools still requiring surveys to be done.  

"There are 65 affected schools in Essex - more than in any other county - out of 156 in total so far identified.

"This disruption will come as a terrible shock to the other schools, to their pupils, parents and staff.

“There remain questions to ask about how this situation has arisen and been allowed to persist for so long without being comprehensively addressed before now."

Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the council and cabinet member for special educational needs and disabilities, said: “The main priority is for the safety and wellbeing of the children and staff at Kingsdown School.

“I appreciate the frustration and dismay of the children and their families that this has only come to light just days before the start of the new academic year following further and updated national DfE advice, but safety is paramount.”

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.

Inspections have been carried out at all UK schools since March.

Kingsdown was identified as having RAAC within its main building and was being monitored.

It's not known how long the school will be closed for, but the government says it is in "close conversation" with Kingsdown, to work out how the pupils can still access their education during this time.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has told parents "not to be worried", but unions and opposition parties are saying the government should have acted sooner.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know