RAAC crisis is blowing school rebuilding plan off course

Aaron Morby 6 months ago
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An estimated 700,000 pupils are still being taught in schools in England in dire need of major repairs or refurbishment.

The growing backlog of schools in need of urgent repairs was highlighted in the findings of a damning parliamentary inquiry into the condition of the school estate.

Spending watchdog MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said that the government’s School Rebuilding Programme has become dominated by concerns over the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

The committee said many of the 100 schools still to be selected for the programme will be chosen due to serious Raac issues, leaving other run-down schools at the end of the queue for funding.

An estimated 700,000 pupils attend the 1,200 schools considered for the SRP.

The committee also red-flagged the Department for Education’s slow progress on working up a full picture of asbestos across the school estate.

The report finds that, as at July 2023, the DfE was unsighted on asbestos in just over 4% of schools.

While this has fallen from 7% at May 2022, this still represents almost 1,000 schools.

Both RAAC and asbestos can be present in the same building, complicating any works to tackle the issues.

It also highlighted that since 2011, around 11 teachers or ex-teachers have died from asbestos-related conditions each year, Health and Safety Executive data suggests.

The report urges the Government to develop a package of support and good practice, targeted at helping mitigate the negative impact on pupils and teachers of schools that are in poor condition but cannot yet be fixed.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “The School Rebuilding Programme was already struggling to stay on track, and DfE lacked a mechanism to direct funding to regions which need it most.

“It risks being blown further off course by concerns over RAAC, and many schools in dire need of help will not receive it as a result.

“The images of classroom ceilings collapsed onto empty school desks released in recent months are not just searing indictments of a deteriorating school estate.

“They are chilling reminders of absolute catastrophe averted through sheer luck.

“Given the poor condition of so many of these buildings, the Government’s prime challenge now is to keep the safety of children and staff absolutely paramount.”

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