United Kingdom

Labour plans vote to publish list of schools with collapse-risk concrete

Ministers are facing calls for transparency over the extent to which reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) is affecting public buildings after experts warned the problem may not be limited to the education sector.

Labour said it plans to put forward a humble address – an arcane parliamentary mechanism sometimes used to demand papers from Government departments – to force the publication of a list of affected schools.

More than 100 schools and colleges have been told by the Department for Education (DfE) to fully or partially shut buildings due to the existence of Raac, just as pupils prepare to return after the summer holidays.

It follows the collapse last week of a beam previously thought to have been safe.

The Government has said a list of affected sites will be published “in due course” but has not said when.

It is unclear how many schools have had to fully close, but the PA news agency understands it is estimated to be as many as 24.

So far, The Northern Echo has learned of nine schools across the North East have been told to close their doors over concerns they are built with the crumbling concrete.

The Northern Echo: Ferryhill School is one of several in the North East affected by the concrete issues

Schools minister Nick Gibb admitted more classrooms could be forced to shut but the Government has insisted it acted decisively this week when new concerns came to light.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “It’s time ministers were transparent about their handling of this debacle: if they still refuse to publish these documents and give parents the reassurances they deserve about the risks to their children’s safety, then we will force a vote in Parliament next week.”

Engineers have warned that the problem could be far wider, with hospitals, prisons, courts and offices potentially at risk due to the use of Raac up to the mid-1990s.

Raac is thought to be present in at least 34 hospitals across England, with the Government having pledged to replace seven of the worst affected by 2030.

The DfE said said it was working with teachers to make sure that in cases where remote learning is required it would be for “a matter of days, not weeks” and that Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will inform Parliament next week of the plan to keep parents and the public updated.

“We have been clear since Thursday about the number of schools immediately impacted by Raac,” a department spokesperson said.

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“It is vital that schools are given time to inform parents and consider their next steps, with extensive support from our caseworkers, before the list of affected schools is published.

“The Education Secretary will inform Parliament next week of the plan to keep parents and the public updated on the issue.

“Fifty-two of the 156 Raac cases identified already have mitigations in place, and while some of the remaining projects will be more complex, many will range from just a single building on a wider estate, down to a single classroom.

“We are incredibly grateful to school and college leaders for their work with us at pace to make sure that where children are affected, disruption is kept to a minimum, and in the even rarer cases where remote learning is required, it is for a matter of days, not weeks.”

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