School officials in England are contacting leaders of schools and academies to ensure they have contingency plans in the event of buildings constructed from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) collapsing. The Department for Education (DfE) wants to ensure that buildings at risk of collapse are evacuated and students are relocated to alternative accommodations or nearby schools. This urgent action comes just days before the start of the new school year, raising concerns over the government’s handling of the situation and the potential disruption to children’s education.
While the dangers of aging RAAC buildings have been known since a roof collapse at a primary school in 2018, critics argue that the DfE’s last-minute phone calls demonstrate a lack of preparedness and investment in the school estate. The Association of School and College Leaders emphasizes the need for necessary investment to make all school buildings safe and to replace those that are unfit for purpose. The DfE, however, reassures the public that the safety of pupils and teachers is their top priority and that they have been engaging with schools and responsible bodies since 2018 to address RAAC risks.
Internal DfE documents indicate the urgency with which schools are being prepared for potential upheaval due to the presence of unstable RAAC. The lightweight concrete, commonly used in construction between the 1950s and mid-1990s, is at risk of collapse. Out of nearly 200 completed surveys, 65 schools have been found to have decaying concrete, with 24 requiring emergency action. It is expected that more schools will be at risk as the results of surveys of 572 schools with suspected RAAC are published.
The DfE advises school leaders to have adequate contingency plans in place for spaces with confirmed RAAC, including preparations for evacuations and temporary closures. The script provided by the DfE emphasizes the importance of collaboration with local schools and authorities to manage the impact of potential multiple closures. The DfE’s concerns about the integrity of RAAC panels are evident in their three-stage disruption plan: short term (up to one month), medium term (up to three years), and long term (likely involving rebuilding schools).
While parents seek clarity on the number of affected schools and the safety of their children, the DfE maintains that they are actively working to address the risks associated with RAAC. This situation highlights the need for robust infrastructure investments in schools and ongoing maintenance to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff.
Q: Are all schools at risk of collapse?
A: While there is growing concern about the stability of buildings constructed from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), not all schools are at risk. The Department for Education (DfE) is actively assessing schools with suspected RAAC and advising on contingency plans.
Q: How long will potential closures last?
A: The duration of closures will vary depending on the severity of the structural issues. The DfE has outlined a three-stage disruption plan, which includes short-term closures of up to one month, medium-term arrangements for temporary accommodation lasting up to three years, and potential long-term rebuilding.
Q: What measures are being taken to ensure students’ safety?
A: The DfE is encouraging schools to develop contingency plans, including evacuating buildings if necessary, and relocating students to alternative accommodations or nearby schools. The safety of students and teachers is the utmost priority for the DfE.