'Weak concrete' found in four North Tyneside schools after ceiling collapse investigation

Four schools on North Tyneside were partially closed after a collapsed ceiling in one building sparked a council-wide investigation. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Weak and brittle concrete has been found in four schools on North Tyneside after a collapsed ceiling in one building sparked a council-wide investigation.

No one was injured when a chunk of concrete fell through the ceiling overnight at Fordley Primary School in Annitsford last December, but the school was forced to partially shut over safety fears.

An investigation was launched after the incident and found three other schools required further checks, forcing their partial closure in February.

They were Churchill Community College in Wallsend, Hazlewood Primary School in Wideopen and Grasmere Academy in Killingworth.

Pupils at the affected sites have all returned to face-to-face teaching.

Most of the children are being taught in parts of the school buildings that are unaffected, but some have been taught in marquees or bussed to other schools.

The schools were forced to partially close following the incident at Fordley Primary School last December. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Now, a structural report has found that the issue was caused by a weak and brittle concrete mix, "Hollow Concrete Block and Plank", used in some blocks when the schools were constructed in the 1960s.

The council said that when one block cracks, it forms a weakness, potentially causing other blocks in the same row to crack slowly over time.

It does not create issues with stability for the whole building but does for isolated areas, it added.

It is a different problem to that caused by Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) which forced the closure of hundreds of schools across the country in September 2023.

The authority is awaiting further tests from Churchill, Hazlewood and Grasmere before reports are finalised.

It will then work with the schools, the Department for Education and structural engineers on remedial works to allow the buildings to fully reopen.

In the meantime, all students will continue face-to-face teaching in the current arrangements until portable classrooms arrive.

Julie Firth, director of children’s services for North Tyneside Council, said: “I’d like to thank the communities at the affected schools for their patience; we know this has been disruptive and difficult.

"We are so proud of how the pupils are adapting and carrying on with their education, and that’s testament to the hard work and dedication of the staff.

“A lot of the short-term solutions would not have been possible without the coming together of the wider school and education community across North Tyneside, who have undertaken some serious reshuffling to temporarily host pupils and their teachers from other schools.

“We are working with the school leaders and the Department for Education on longer-term solutions”.

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