Sharp rise in number of schools in England with collapse-risk concrete
Crumbling and potentially dangerous concrete has been found in 174 English schools, the Department for Education (DfE) has said, 27 more than the initial list, and still expected to be a some way below the final total.
In a revised list of schools affected by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac), the first official government update on the crisis in a fortnight, the DfE said 23 schools were having to use a mix of virtual and in-person learning, three more than before.
However, only one school is being forced to use entirely remote learning, down from four in the initial list, and none are completely closed.
The update, which gives a snapshot of the situation as of last Thursday, shows Raac has affected 91 primary schools and 67 secondary schools, with the others a mix of 16-plus colleges and all-age schools.
The DfE has been facing pressure to provide more information on the schools affected by Raac, a cheaper, lighter form of concrete with a suggested 30-year lifespan that was used to build schools and other public buildings from the 1950s to 1990s.
Schools have taken measures ranging from propping up buildings to moving children into temporary classrooms or making them learn from home, after an urgent safety alert shortly before the start of the new term.
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said the DfE was “taking a cautious approach” to reassure parents about safety.
“School and local leaders deserve huge credit for making sure the vast majority of settings with confirmed Raac are continuing to offer pupils face-to-face learning – including all of the 147 schools initially identified two weeks ago,” she said.
“We will continue to work closely with affected schools and provide both expert and financial support to minimise disruption and keep staff and children safe.”
Paul Whiteman, head of the NAHT, the union representing headteachers and other school leaders, said there was a lack of longer-term answers.
“We still need a real sense of a clear plan not just to put short-term mitigation measures in place, but to properly repair or replace buildings so they are fit for purpose,” he said.
“Propping up ceilings with metal poles is clearly not a serious option in the medium or long term.”
While the lifespan of Raac was known for years, and thus the potential risks, the alert came after a series of sudden failures of Raac-built structures in recent months, which forced large numbers of headteachers and schools to make alternative arrangements.
Labour has criticised the lack of news – there have been no updates to parliament for more than a fortnight – and said some schools had been struggling to discover what costs the DfE would cover, slowing down the implementation of some mitigation measures.
Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, accused the DfE of showing a general lack of openness about the issue, telling the Guardian this appeared to be indicative of a wider government attitude that initially hoped to cover up the problem, and was now trying to minimise it.
“Ministers are happy just for this to drift and allow it to be somebody else’s problem,” she said. “A government in its dying days has no interest in fixing this. And frankly, it’s other people’s children and they have no interest in resolving it.”