Raac crisis: Parents protest outside St Leonard's School, Durham

Parents staged a protest outside St Leonard's School, Durham, which is largely shut due toreinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac). Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Parents are protesting outside a secondary school which has been largely shut due to the reinforced concrete crisis.

Pupils at St Leonard's School in Durham have had only a handful of days of face-to-face learning since the start of term while others have been in classes of more than 100 and have been working on their knees, using clip boards to lean on instead of desks, parents have said.

The school, which has 1,400 pupils and is regularly among the top-performing state schools at GCSE in the North East, has had to move most of its learning online due to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) being found in buildings across the site.

  • Parents spoke to ITV Tyne Tees at a protest on Wednesday

Most pupils are learning online for four days a week since the start of the school year.

St Leonard’s is on the Department for Education’s (DfE) list of schools to be rebuilt and parents want it to be moved to the head of the queue.

Parents staged a protest outside the school on Wednesday 27 September to coincide with a visit by Baroness Barran, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education.

They were disappointed when the minister did not stop to talk to those who had gathered outside, though reporters were told she did speak to some parents during a meeting inside the school.

Children at St Leonard's have had reduced face-to-face teaching since the start of the school year. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mum Amanda Race, whose child has just started in year seven, told ITV Tyne Tees: "He's only had four days in the school for the last four weeks. It's really difficult. He's missing out on key experiences and dealing with social isolation and mental health.

"Six hours staring at a computer screen - that's hard. Lessons have been big group sizes as well. It's really difficult and we feel it's been forgotten about. It's slipped off the front pages but so many children are impacted."

She added: "We're all really concerned as parents. We want the best for out children and we want the best outcomes."

Keith and Sally Mallard have two sons at the school, who are in year eleven and year nine.

Mr Mallard said: "The school has been doing an amazing job and are doing their best to resolve this but we need things to move forward and we need the Department for Education to move forward so they can go back to full in person learning.

" This is something that's urgent and needs to be resolved."

Parents want the school to be made a priority for a new building. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Nick Hurn, chief executive of the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, said he had been assured by Baroness Barran that the extra costs of leasing buildings and finding furniture would be supported by the DfE.

He added: "It was very productive. The team we've been working with the DfE have been fantastic. I need to say that. The teams at the school and the trust have been working really closely. We've been meeting every day talking about the problems and finding solutions."

He said the school was aiming to return to face-to-face teaching for all children by October half term. It is planning to use facilities at Ushaw College, near Durham, and to get additional mobile classrooms.

The trust has also asked if it can use centre assessed grades (CAG) for GCSE and A-level pupils, which happened across the country during the pandemic, using students’ previous work to judge their abilities.

It has approached the Parliamentary Education Select Committee for assurances that if they were permitted to use CAG “for the duration of this upheaval” that pupils would not be disadvantaged when applying for university or jobs.

The DfE said Baroness Barran did not have time to do an interview with ITV Tyne Tees. Mr Hurn said she planned to have an online forum for parents shortly to enable them to ask questions.

Durham MP Mary Kelly Foy said: "The first priority is to get children to face-to-face learning and something that resembles a normal classroom. I've just been in the sports hall and there were over 100 pupils in a room trying to learn from one teacher. That's nowhere near ideal.

"Parents have told me that the most important thing is that their children's education resumes and gets back to something that is normal."

In a statement, Schools Minister Baroness Barran said: “We are working closely with St Leonard’s school to minimise disruption and get pupils back into face-to-face learning. Today, I met with parents, staff and pupils to hear their views and I will return next week to share further updates.

“St Leonard’s School is already set to be rebuilt as part of our School Rebuilding Programme and we are working at pace to conclude feasibility work so that procurement, planning and construction can go ahead as quickly as possible.” 

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