Schools in England to close due to concerns about concrete safety


England (Parliament Politic Magazine) – Over a hundred schools, colleges, and nurseries in England have been instructed to close their buildings due to concerns about the safety of their concrete structures, which are at risk of collapsing. This situation has resulted in potential disruptions for thousands of students, creating a challenging situation just days before the commencement of the new term.

Education authorities are referring to this situation as a “scramble,” as they work to find solutions to accommodate affected students. In response to the closures, some students will resort to remote learning, temporary classrooms, or attending alternate schools.

Educational Institutions To Close Down Admist Safety Concerns 

The decision to close these educational institutions stems from the government’s response to “new evidence” regarding the concrete safety issue. Schools that possess reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) structures will need to implement additional safety measures, which might involve reinforcing ceilings and structures.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, emphasized the government’s cautious approach in making this decision. She noted that a few incidents over the summer have raised concerns, prompting these measures.

For instance, at Willowbank Mead Primary School in Leicester, arrangements have been established for various year groups to attend separate schools, while older students will rely on online learning. The head teacher acknowledged the less-than-ideal timing of these changes in a letter to parents.

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Among the numerous institutions affected, this particular school is caught up in the aftermath of an announcement by the Department for Education (DfE) last Thursday. The announcement stipulated that any space within schools, colleges, or nurseries that has confirmed reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) must not remain accessible without the implementation of appropriate “mitigations.”

The DfE has refrained from specifying a timeline for the replacement of RAAC or disclosing the specific locations facing these challenges. This action was prompted by several incidents where RAAC unexpectedly deteriorated, not solely within school premises but in other locations as well.

Gillian Keegan, addressing concerned parties, stated that the government would eventually release a list of the affected educational institutions. However, she didn’t provide a specific timeframe for this release, assuring parents not to be alarmed if they don’t receive immediate information.

Mistley Norman Primary School in Manningtree, Essex: Students Learn Elsewhere

Earlier, Ms. Keegan highlighted that the plan aims to minimize disruptions to student learning. It also emphasizes the provision of adequate funding and support to enable schools to establish necessary mitigations to address the issues associated with RAAC.

In June, the National Audit Office (NAO), a watchdog organization, expressed grave concern over the potential for “very likely and critical” risks of injury or even fatalities resulting from the collapse of school buildings. This alarm was particularly focused on structures that still incorporated reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

RAAC, a lightweight and frothy variant of concrete commonly employed from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, was frequently used in the configuration of flat roof panels. It also occasionally found its way into pitched roofs, floors, and walls. Typically endowed with a life expectancy of approximately 30 years, RAAC’s vulnerabilities have raised apprehensions.

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While the majority of educational establishments will remain unaffected by this directive, the NAO’s report pinpoints 572 schools where this type of concrete could potentially be present.

As per the data from the Department for Education (DfE), there are 156 sites in England confirmed to utilize RAAC. 

Among these, 52 have already implemented safety precautions, while the remaining 104 are in the process of being contacted this week to facilitate the installation of safety measures.

Considering the extensive educational landscape, comprising over 20,000 schools in England, this issue remains impactful.

Among those affected are two primary schools in Bradford – Crossflatts and Eldwick. Subsections of these schools have been sealed off due to identified concrete concerns, as reported by the local council. 

Shazad Ismail, whose son Yahya is on the verge of entering Year 5 at Crossflatts, noted the closure of a section of the building and the swift setup of temporary yellow classrooms, just days before the new term is scheduled to begin.

Mistley Norman Primary School in Manningtree, Essex, is undergoing a situation where its students will be educated at another school for an indefinite period, as conveyed by Emma Wigmore, CEO of the Vine Schools Trust. 

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.