Pressure Mounts on the UK Government
Pressure is intensifying on the UK government to disclose the names of schools at risk of structural failure due to the type of concrete used in their construction. The Department for Education (DfE) recently issued orders for over 100 schools to either partially or fully close, just as the new school year is set to commence in the coming days.
The Risk of RAAC
These schools are in jeopardy due to their buildings being constructed with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which carries a higher risk of sudden structural collapse. Some of the affected schools may need to close entirely, potentially leading to a return to remote learning, resembling the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Previous Warning
The alarming state of school buildings in England was highlighted in a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) in June, revealing that approximately 700,000 students were attending schools requiring significant reconstruction or refurbishment. These schools are currently on the ‘crumbling building’ list and may be affected by the recent DfE directive.
Affected Schools Identified
The following schools have been publicly identified as being at risk due to their RAAC construction:
- Crossflatts Primary School in Bradford
- Eldwick Primary School in Bradford
- Ferryhill School in County Durham
- Willowbrook Mead Primary Academy in Leicester
- Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School in Brixton, South London
However, the complete list of affected schools has not been disclosed, drawing criticism from teaching unions and opposition politicians. Some schools have also been informed that they will need to fund their own emergency accommodations if their buildings are closed, although Schools Minister Nick Gibb denied this claim.
A Call for Transparency
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan sought to reassure parents, stating, “Most parents should not be worried about this at all.” Nevertheless, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson called for full transparency, saying, “We haven’t seen the full list of schools affected. We don’t know where they are, ministers should come clean with parents and set out the full scale of the challenge that we’re facing.”
RAAC, a lightweight building material popular from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, is now assessed to be at risk of structural failure. This concrete variant, often used on roofs and occasionally in walls and floors, resembles standard concrete but is weaker and less durable. RAAC was favored for its lightweight thermal properties, but experts assert that it deteriorates over time and is susceptible to sudden failure.
With a life expectancy of just over 30 years, buildings constructed with RAAC during the 1950s to the 1990s, without structural engineering assessments, are at risk of collapse. Moreover, RAAC is prone to collapse when exposed to moisture, such as from roof leaks. The DfE has been evaluating the RAAC issue since late 2018.
National Education Union General Secretary Daniel Kebede expressed his concerns, stating, “It is absolutely disgraceful and a sign of gross government incompetence that, just days before the start of term, 104 schools are finding out that some or all of their buildings are unsafe and cannot be used.”