3rd July 2023
Nearly 600 schools in England Identified as Potentially at Risk of Structural Collapse
Specialists are currently conducting urgent inspections on nearly 600 schools in England that have been identified as potentially at risk of structural collapse due to deteriorating concrete, according to a recent report.
The Department for Education (DfE) has identified 572 schools where reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a building material susceptible to sudden failure, may have been used during construction.
The National Audit Office (NAO) report reveals that RAAC has been confirmed in 65 schools following 196 surveys, and 24 of these required emergency action, including school closures and emergency support to prevent collapse. The total number of schools at risk is expected to increase significantly as the DfE continues to assess the prevalence and condition of RAAC across schools. The dangers associated with RAAC became apparent after a roof collapse at a primary school in Gravesend, Kent, in 2018.
Schools Instructed to Close
Recent news highlighted that four schools, located in Essex and the northeast, were instructed by the DfE to close after RAAC was found in their ceilings. These schools—Mistley Norman Church of England Primary School, Hockley Primary School in Essex, and two schools in the northeast—have shifted to remote learning or alternative sites. RAAC, a lightweight form of concrete used in schools and other public buildings constructed between the 1950s and mid-1990s, is considered the greatest safety risk in England's aging school infrastructure.
According to the NAO, more than one-third (38%) of school buildings (24,000) have exceeded their estimated design lifespan. Approximately 700,000 students attend schools requiring major reconstruction or refurbishment, directly impacting academic performance and teacher retention.
Shadow Schools Minister Comments
Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, expressed concerns about the Conservative government's response to the risks posed by deteriorating school buildings, urging transparency and assuring parents that their children are attending safe educational facilities. The DfE has prioritized assessing the 14,900 schools built during the period when RAAC was widely used, with 42% confirming they have conducted investigations, but risks remain unidentified in the remaining schools.
The report does not provide a list of affected schools, but headteachers in affected schools are likely aware of the situation and have likely communicated with parents, especially if closures have occurred. Additionally, approximately 13,800 "system-built" blocks in schools, most of which contain asbestos, are a cause for concern, with about 3,600 susceptible to deterioration. The department has approved plans to assess 200 of these blocks but has not yet appointed specialists for inspections.
Unison's head of education, Mike Short, emphasized the urgency of addressing the risks, highlighting that staff and students spend their days in potentially collapsing buildings. Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, called for transparency and criticized the government's lack of knowledge about the extent of the danger to children in schools.
The report's findings alarmed Natalie Perera, chief executive at the Education Policy Institute, who criticized the inadequate investment in school buildings and urgent maintenance issues, leading to an unprecedented risk for the department. Despite being aware of the RAAC risk since 2018, only a third of potentially affected schools have been investigated. Perera described it as inconceivable for the department to tolerate a risk that could potentially cause death or serious injury to children and teachers.
In response, the DfE highlighted government investments in 500 projects for new and refurbished school buildings, allocating over £15 billion since 2015 to ensure schools remain safe and operational. The DfE stressed that the responsibility lies with those overseeing schools, including academy trusts, local authorities, and voluntary-aided school bodies, to manage maintenance and report any concerns. The government has launched a UK-wide inquiry into the use of deteriorating concrete in public buildings