‘Unacceptable and alarming’: MPs slam DfE over schools RAAC crisis

PAC RAAC schools - A classroom where the ceiling has collapsed.
(Image: Local Government Association)

A report by MPs has criticised the Department for Education (DfE) for “unacceptable numbers of pupils” attending classes in “poorly maintained or potentially unsafe buildings”.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the DfE’s lack of basic information during the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) crisis in schools is “shocking and disappointing”.

Schools, parents and communities are still uncertain about how long it will take to fix schools where RAAC is present.

The spending watchdog warned that 700,000 students are learning in educational settings in need of a major rebuilding or refurbishing. It calls for a package of support for teachers and students at schools in poor condition that cannot yet be fixed.

“Unacceptable numbers of pupils are learning in poorly maintained or potentially unsafe buildings,” said the report. “The PAC is extremely concerned that DfE does not have a good enough understanding of the risks in school buildings to keep children and staff safe.”

A full picture of asbestos

PAC is also calling for the DfE to provide “a full picture” of asbestos across schools. Although the proportion of schools in which asbestos was unsighted had fallen to just over 4% in July 2023 from 7% the year before, this still represents almost 1,000 schools.

Since 2011, around 11 teachers or ex-teachers have died from asbestos-related conditions each year, according to Health and Safety Executive data.

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

Last week, another PAC report into the government’s New Hospital Programme warned that if the rebuilding of the seven hospitals constructed entirely of RAAC is not sped up, some hospitals may have to close before replacements are ready.

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  1. If you let them live long enough, chickens come home to roost. The decision to make sure the not-very-civil-service had no effective in-house expertise – many years ago now – to ensure that the decision makers – permanent secretaries and MP’s – could not be faced with stuff they did not understand and which would get in the way of their objectives, is long-standing. Not just Covid – which is a more recent incident of the same kilter – but a whole swathe of life where a PPE degree counts for absolutely nothing.

    In a career where the prospect of missing some dodgy concrete – notably pre-stressed or post-tensioned – that could fail if touched in the wrong way, was the single most concerning aspect of working on the existing built environment, it comes as no surprise to find that these failures, and potential failures – like the recent ‘Ronan Point lookalike large PCC panel multi-storey’- are still out there in buildings whose neglect, particularly over the last two decades, is becoming the stuff of legend.

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