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Thousands of pupils forced to stay home as school starts over concrete concerns

Thousands of pupils forced to stay home as school starts over concrete concerns

Thousands of pupils have been told to stay at home as the new school year gets under way due to safety concerns about crumbling concrete.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published a long-awaited list of 147 schools and colleges in England identified as having collapse-prone reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) on site.

Four schools have had to switch to remote learning for all students, rather than face-to-face lessons, because of the concrete crisis.

An additional 20 schools have had to offer some remote learning to pupils at the start of the academic year as Raac was present in their buildings.

The start of term has been delayed temporarily at a further 19 schools while accommodation is finalised, the DfE list suggests.

The list has been published nearly a week after the Government told more than 100 education settings in England to fully or partially shut buildings just days before the new academic year due to concerns about Raac.

EDUCATION Schools
EDUCATION Schools

Headteachers have been scrambling to find temporary teaching spaces, while others have been forced to replace face-to-face lessons with online learning.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “I know this is the last way parents, teachers and children affected by this wanted to begin the new term, but it will always be my priority to ensure the safety of pupils and staff.”

She added that “the majority” of schools where Raac has been confirmed have opened to all pupils for the start of term.

Cabinet Meeting
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has been under fire over her handling of the crisis (James Manning/PA)

The remaining schools and colleges on the DfE’s list – which are affected by Raac – are offering all their students face-to-face learning on-site or nearby.

On Tuesday, the Education Secretary told school chiefs who had not yet responded to a survey about crumbling concrete to “get off their backsides” and inform the Government if they are affected by Friday.

Ms Keegan urged the 5% of schools, or the bodies responsible for them, to fill out the DfE’s questionnaire about potential Raac on their sites.

Children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said there will be “more schools with problems”.

She told LBC Radio: “Clearly not all of the scripts have been returned and this will be a process that unfolds.

“So, I am pleased that rigorous safety has been enforced and children are physically safe, but I don’t believe this is the end of the story.”

Downing Street said the number of school sites affected by Raac could rise as not all questionnaires have been returned by academy trusts and councils.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I believe significant numbers, ministers down and indeed locally, are trying to get clarity on the remaining numbers that haven’t responded.”

He added that the list – which only includes settings confirmed with Raac as of August 30 – will remain “under review” and will be updated.

Downing Street declined to say whether the concrete crisis would be resolved by Christmas.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Whilst there are still some outstanding surveys we cannot put a specific timeline on it.

“In the instances where we have identified Raac we expect mitigations to be put in place in a number of weeks.”

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has said she is concerned there could be “omissions” in the list of the schools with confirmed Raac.

Opening an opposition day debate on the safety of school buildings, Ms Phillipson said: “I hope we can get to a situation where we can have full clarity about the situation across our schools.”

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “Questions must be asked about why has it taken six days to produce this list of schools, and when did the Government first receive the advice to raise the risk warning for those schools?

“Publishing a list without an urgent plan to fix the problem in each and every one of these schools will be of no comfort to the thousands of pupils, parents and school staff whose lives are being impacted by the Government’s actions.

“Children and young people deserve better and should not have their education disrupted because the Government is unable properly to get a grip of this situation.”

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson also criticised the time taken to publish the list of schools affected.

“Sunak and his Conservative ministers have ducked responsibility and blamed everyone but themselves for this fiasco,” she said.

“Families deserve to know the truth instead of this endless smoke and mirrors.”

The row over England’s schools dominated Prime Minister’s Questions, where Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed “the cowboys are running the country”.

He highlighted schools now found to have Raac which would have been replaced under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

But Rishi Sunak said the BSF scheme, scrapped by the coalition Government, would have been “time-consuming and expensive, just like the Labour Party”.

He defended the Government’s handling of Raac: “We make no apology for acting decisively in the face of new information… Of the 22,000 schools in England the vast, vast majority won’t be affected.”