This week witnesses children across the country returning to school as the summer holidays come to a close. Nevertheless, thousands of pupils will encounter disruption as their schools remain closed due to concerns about the dangers associated with aerated concrete.
On Thursday (31st August), the government directed over 100 schools, colleges, and nurseries throughout England to promptly close their premises due to health and safety apprehensions. Treasury officials have subsequently confirmed that funds for repairs will be sourced from the Department for Education’s (DfE) present capital budget. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has moved swiftly to reassure parents that the Government is committed to “spending what it takes” to rectify the issue.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan disclosed that the decision was made following the discovery of “new evidence” regarding a material used in the construction of these structures. Here is a summary of the publicly available information concerning the closure of numerous schools, the affected institutions, and the potential impact on students.
Why are schools closing?
The Government has opted to close more than 100 educational establishments that have been constructed using concrete susceptible to structural failure—the material is referred to as “reinforced with autoclaved aerated concrete” (RAAC).
Schools with this material have been instructed to implement new safety measures to ensure the well-being of students.
The Government has not provided a timeline for replacing RAAC.
This decision was prompted by a National Audit Office study in June, which disclosed that the risk of injury or fatality resulting from a collapse of school buildings containing RAAC was deemed “very likely and critical.”
Which schools are closing?
The National Audit Office determined that 572 schools were likely to contain RAAC. Out of these, 156 were confirmed to have RAAC.
However, 52 schools had already implemented safety precautions, leaving only 104 buildings subject to the closure order. To date, the Government has not released a comprehensive list of all the affected schools. Nevertheless, it has advised that the impacted schools and other educational facilities will notify families at the commencement of the term.
How will closures affect students?
Regarding the impact of closures on students, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan elucidated: “We must adopt a cautious approach because it is the prudent choice for both pupils and staff.
“The plan we have laid out will mitigate the disruption to student learning and provide schools with the necessary funding and support to implement measures to address RAAC.”
Children attending schools with RAAC structures may be relocated to temporary classrooms and learning spaces.
What is RAAC, and when was it used?
The material, referred to as “reinforced with autoclaved aerated concrete” (RAAC), is a lightweight substance. The Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) has observed that “although called ‘concrete,’ (RAAC) is markedly distinct from traditional concrete and, due to its manufacturing process, significantly weaker.
“RAAC was utilised in the construction of schools, colleges, and other buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. Therefore, it may be present in any school and college structure (both educational and ancillary) constructed or modified during this period.”