The number of schools affected by collapse-prone concrete will “certainly” grow further, the leader of a teaching union has warned.
The Department for Education (DfE) on Tuesday (19 September) revealed that 174 schools have buildings which have been identified as containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) - up from the previously-known figure of 147.
According to the government’s list, the majority of schools have been able to continue with face-to-face education, but there are some which have been forced to operate online. Meanwhile, others are seeking temporary classrooms for the coming weeks so as to not endanger their students.
Downing Street has stressed that “the majority” of children have not been affected by the crisis, but the National Education Union (NEU) has warned that it is far from over - telling pupils and parents at schools which have not yet been impacted to prepare for further announcements.
Daniel Kebede, the union’s general secretary, explained: “This number [of schools with RAAC] is certain to grow as other schools are properly inspected. There is still a lack of clarity and timeframe from the government on when all schools at risk will be investigated by qualified structural engineers to assess the extent of the problem, and the measures that need to be put in place to rectify the presence of RAAC.”
Mr Kebede also slammed the DfE for not setting a deadline by which RAAC should be cleared from every school - arguing that it made it “impossible” to assess the progress ministers are making.
Phil Caton, a construction law partner at top legal firm Aaron & Partners, previously voiced similar concerns. He told NationalWorld that he was wary of ministers “reliance on” schools self-reporting RAAC, an approach which had been put in place without a “clear, immediate verification process” from the DfE.
This, he argued, “leaves room for considerable gaps in data” - with some schools not offering all the information needed, and, as a result, delays in the implementation of health and safety measures.
These “self-reporting” surveys Mr Caton was referring to were first sent out to schools in 2022. Initially, 86% of settings responded - but just 42% reported they had taken steps to identify RAAC. As of 19 September, 98.6% of schools asked by the government about the presence of RAAC have submitted full questionnaire responses.
School system minister Baroness Barran said that the DfE would be “imminently” be contacting schools which were yet to submit their findings. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has insisted that student safety is the government’s “top priority” - and also promised that by the end of this week, experts will have inspected every school that was awaiting a survey as of 4 September.
Speaking to MPs on Tuesday (19 September), the DfE’s top official also revealed that nearly 250 temporary classrooms had been ordered by at least 29 schools in response to the crisis surrounding RAAC.
Susan Acland-Hood, permanent secretary, confirmed the figure during an Education Select Committee, but stressed that it should be “taken with caution” because it referred to orders that might not be needed. She explained: “I will give you this figure because I want to be transparent, but I don’t think it is a target because if we can remediate through timber framing on the classroom ceiling, then that is often a better solution.
“But at close on Friday, project directors and case workers had made inquiries requesting potential orders… relating to 180 single classrooms and 68 double classrooms, and a mix of what I think are brilliantly referred to as hygiene facilities, which I think means loos.”
However, Education Secretary Keegan tried to put a positive spin on the temporary buildings - claiming in Parliament that she had met children who “preferred them to the classroom” and were “petitioning her to stay in the Portakabin.”
She received some backlash from shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson, who shouted from the Labour Party’s frontbench about this claim. But Ms Keegan responded: “The Portakabins are very high quality and I would advise her [Phillipson] to go and see some of the high quality Portakabins that we have.”