Several England schools to shut over collapse fears from risky concrete

UK's Department for Education issued the guidelines and asked 150 schools having a risky concrete to close down and move temporarily.

Several England schools to shut over collapse fears from risky concrete England schools to shut due to use of a risky concrete in their buildings (Representational Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Press Trust of India | Sep 1, 2023 - 3:56 p.m. IST
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LONDON: Around 150 schools in England are facing disruption from closure and having to move to temporary locations on Friday under new government health and safety guidelines over fears of collapse due to a form of risky concrete used in such buildings. The UK’s Department for Education (DfE) issued the guidance over Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) after losing confidence that school and college buildings with confirmed RAAC should remain open without mitigations in place.

Just over 50 schools and education institutions were already required to put mitigations in place this year, including through temporary accommodation. This week, the department said it has contacted 104 further settings where RAAC is currently confirmed to be present without mitigations in place, to ask them to vacate spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC.

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“Nothing is more important than making sure children and staff are safe in schools and colleges, which is why we are acting on new evidence about RAAC now, ahead of the start of term,” said UK Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. “We must take a cautious approach because that is the right thing to do for both pupils and staff. The plan we have set out will minimise the impact on pupil learning and provide schools with the right funding and support they need to put mitigations in place to deal with RAAC,” she said.

RAAC is a lightweight concrete that was widely used to build roofs, schools, colleges and other buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s before it went out of use. An analysis a few years ago found it posed significant risk and replacements were recommended. However, fresh advice this week warned of imminent risk following the collapse of a beam in one such school building. It comes as most schools in England were to resume a new term from next week after the summer holiday break. "In most cases, it will be just a few buildings or a few rooms, or just a cupboard. But in some cases, it will be the whole school. And in those circumstances we will be finding alternative accommodation," said UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

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Parents are expected to be contacted by the schools if pupils are moving to a temporary location while remediation works are being carried out. The DfE said it will work closely with responsible bodies to manage RAAC in the long term, supported by capital funding provided to the sectors each year, and through the school rebuilding programme. However, the government has come under attack from the Opposition Labour Party as it called on ministers to "come clean” and set out the full scale of the challenge.

The Liberal Democrats said, "pupil safety is paramount but for this to come out just days before term starts is totally unacceptable". "It is absolutely disgraceful, and a sign of gross government incompetence, that a few days before the start of term, 104 schools are finding out that some or all of their buildings are unsafe and cannot be used," said Daniel Kebede, National Education Union general secretary.

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