RAAC crisis: school buildings could be about to collapse ... and not one f*****g thanks
David Cameron and George Osborne promised to “fix the roof when the sun was shining” and now it might be about to literally fall in
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At first we were told we should be grateful for the government’s help.
In a combative interview with ITV, the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told parents that actually it wasn’t the Department for Education’s responsibility to keep school buildings safe. If they collapse - blame your local authority or academy trust.
The DfE was helping out of the goodness of its heart, and we should all be thanking Keegan for doing - in her words - a “f*****g good job”. So let’s just remind ourselves what a good job Keegan has done.
On Friday, days before the start of a new term, it was announced that buildings in at least 104 schools were “prone to collapse” and so pupils should not enter them. Some would be taught in portacabins, others in different institutions, while in some cases the entire school was forced to close.
Parents wondering whether their child’s school was about to collapse in a heap were however left none the wiser, as the government refused to publish a list of all the affected schools. This left mums and dads hoping radio silence meant their children were safe, as opposed to admin errors.
It then emerged on Monday, courtesy of the Prime Minister no less, that more than 1,000 schools may be impacted. He reassured parents by saying that “95% of schools are fine” - i.e. only one in every 20 schools in England is liable to collapse.
And then came Keegan’s expletive-filled rant, which she later blamed on the journalist. Apparently he should have just started the interview by congratulating her for doing a “f*****g good job”.
Of course, Keegan was right to say the situation with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) isn’t her doing. It was used to build public infrastructure from around the Second World War until the 90s, yet has a shorter shelf-life than normal concrete.
She has after all been in the role for less than a year, and one of six education secretaries in the last two years. You wonder how all the warnings got missed …
Keegan says that the information of how dangerous certain RAAC-made buildings are was changed as late as last week, so therefore the government could not have prevented the current crisis. Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, explained that it was a coincidence that the issue surfaced now - and could have easily happened during term time.
However, this is a problem that successive governments have been repeatedly warned about. In 2018, a beam collapsed in a school in Kent, which led to the Local Government Association consistently lobbying the Department for Education about the problem of RAAC.
To be fair to the DfE, at this time it did appear to take responsibility for the safety of buildings, and went to the Treasury to ask for funds to repair the 400 schools per year which needed work done.
However in 2020, according to the most senior civil servant in the department, money was only given to repair 100 schools a year, and in 2021 this was cut in half to 50. And who was in charge of the Treasury at the time - ah yes, one Rishi Sunak. I believe there’s a meme about reaping and sowing, which may be appropriate now.
Sunak has today said he thinks these claims from the former permanent secretary of the DfE are “utterly untrue”. He then went on to say he gave funding in 2020 to repair 50 schools a year - so make of that what you will.
Then in September 2021, the DfE’s own risk assessment level was increased to “critical - very likely” that school buildings would collapse. And the warnings kept coming. In October last year, 13 national education associations wrote to every Conservative MP with concerns about 2,000 schools which were built using RAAC.
In February, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) along with seven unions wrote to the DfE urging it to disclose which school buildings are most at risk and have an urgent intervention. And then at the start of the summer, a National Audit Office report estimated 700,000 children are being taught in unsafe or ageing school buildings in England that need major repairs.
The information could well have changed recently, as the government has said, however David Cameron and George Osborne promised to “fix the roof when the sun was shining” and now it might be about to literally fall in.
After years of disrupted teaching due to Covid and strikes from under-paid teachers, children now have to go to school hungry as well as facing threats of cyber attacks, bullying and their classroom collapsing.
The Conservatives have had 13 years in government to make progress fixing this, however it looks like the concrete is crumbling just like Rishi Sunak’s premiership.