Pressure to reveal schools affected by concrete scandal as new term starts
The Department for Education is under increased pressure to reveal exactly how many schools have been affected by the aerated concrete scandal.
Today marks the start of the new school year for many schools up and down the country – but ministers still haven’t published a full list of the schools forced to fully or partially close due to the presence of unsafe reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
There’s increased pressure on the government to set out exactly how many schools have been affected, and how long the disruption could last.
Labour has accused the Department for Education (DfE) of being in ‘complete chaos’ and says it will force a vote in the House of Commons to ensure the full list of affected schools is published.
Until now the government has said it will publish the list of affected schools ‘in due course’.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt moved to reassure parents the government would ‘spend what it takes’ to address the problem, but Treasury sources later said money for repairs would come from the Department for Education’s (DfE) existing capital budget.
More than 100 schools and colleges have been told by the government to fully or partially shut buildings following the recent collapse of a beam previously considered safe.
But more classrooms could be forced to shut as further assessments are made of the risks of RAAC in buildings, the government has admitted.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said it is a ‘scandal that as children are just returning to school ministers are still not being upfront about the scale of what we are facing’.
She added: ‘It’s vital that they publish the list of all the schools as soon as possible.
‘If they don’t do that, we’ll force a vote in the House of Commons to make sure that parents can know exactly what’s going on.
‘This is completely unacceptable, children have seen so much disruption to their education and ministers need to get a grip on this because this is a department that is in complete chaos.’
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will face the morning broadcast round today for the first time since the schools crisis emerged on Thursday, and as she prepares to inform parliament this week of the government’s plans to address the problem.
Remote learning for children unable to access face-to-face lessons should last ‘days, not weeks’, the government has said, but ministers have not said exactly when the disruption might ease.
Schools have been encouraged to use community centres, empty office buildings or other schools while structural supports are installed to mitigate the risk of collapse.
Unions have been angered by uncertainty about which costs will be covered by central government, calling for transparency on whether headteachers will be reimbursed for mitigation expenditure.
Ms Phillipson said she was concerned ‘raiding’ the DfE’s budget to fund repairs could have a negative effect in the long-term.
Concerns about RAAC – a lightweight concrete used up until the mid-1990s – in public buildings were raised in 2018, prompting accusations that ministers have failed to act quick enough.
Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also being assessed for RAAC.
The Scottish government has said it is present in 35 schools, but that none posed an ‘immediate risk’ to pupil safety, while the Welsh government said councils and colleges have not reported any presence of RAAC.
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