Schools asked to vacate spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC

New measures to minimise the impact of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in education settings have been published today, Thursday 31 August, by the government.      

While building maintenance is the duty of councils and academy trusts, the Department for Education said the new RAAC cases have reduced its confidence that school and college buildings with confirmed RAAC should remain open without mitigations in place.    

 As a result, following careful analysis of new cases, the department said it is taking the precautionary and proactive step to change its approach to RAAC in education settings, including schools. The government said this decision has been made with an abundance of caution and to prioritise safety of children, pupils, and staff ahead of the start of the new term.     

 The vast majority of schools and colleges will be unaffected by this change.    

The government said over 50 settings have already been supported to put mitigations in place this year, including through additional funding for temporary accommodation, and all children are receiving face to face learning.   

This week, the department has contacted all 104 further settings where RAAC is currently confirmed to be present without mitigations in place, to ask them to vacate spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC.  

The majority of these settings will remain open for face-to-face learning on their existing site, because the department said only a small part of the site is affected by RAAC. A minority will need to either fully or partially relocate to alternative accommodation while mitigations are put in place because of the extent to which RAAC is present.    

The government said it has been aware of RAAC in public sector buildings since 1994. In 2018, the Department for Education published guidance for schools about the need to have adequate contingencies in place for the eventuality that RAAC-affected buildings need to be vacated at short notice.    

Officials from the department have also contacted responsible bodies directly to remind them of the need to ensure that these plans are in place. The department said the small proportion of schools that are impacted are being contacted directly by a Department for Education case worker and full support will be provided. The department will continue to work with all education settings to identify RAAC and provide support where it is confirmed to be present.    

Parents will be contacted by their school if pupils are moving to a temporary location while remediation works are being carried out. A full explainer for parents can be found here.   

Education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said: “Nothing is more important than making sure children and staff are safe in schools and colleges, which is why we are acting on new evidence about RAAC now, ahead of the start of term.   

“We must take a cautious approach because that is the right thing to do for both pupils and staff.   

 “The plan we have set out will minimise the impact on pupil learning and provide schools with the right funding and support they need to put mitigations in place to deal with RAAC”.   

 While some short-term disruption is inevitable as a result of this change, the government said all available measures are being taken to minimise disruption to learning. The Department for Education said it is providing further support, including:    

–    Providing funding for essential immediate works needed to remove any immediate risk and, where necessary, to support the provision of temporary buildings for schools and colleges affected.  The department said it will work closely with responsible bodies to manage RAAC in the long-term, supported by capital funding provided to the sectors each year, and through the school rebuilding programme.     

–      Assigning a dedicated caseworker to each school/college affected, who will work with them to assess their particular needs and implement individually designed mitigation plans. This could include using other spaces on the school or college site, using spaces in nearby schools or elsewhere in the local area, or putting in place safety measures in the affected area. If needed, the caseworker will be onsite to support the school.    

–        Issuing further guidance to schools and colleges on identifying and managing RAAC. The department said this will set out how it will provide support and funding to schools and other settings so that face-to-face education continues safely.    

–        Project delivery, property, and technical experts will be on hand to support schools to put face-to-face education measures in place.   

The government said that since 2015, £15 billion has been invested to keep schools safe and operational, while buildings at 500 schools will be transformed over the next decade through the School Rebuilding Programme. It added that settings in the poorest condition and those with evidence of potential safety issues are being prioritised, including some now known to contain RAAC.     

Settings that are concerned about the presence of RAAC should continue to inform the department through its ongoing questionnaire. Parents will be contacted by their school if pupils are moving to a temporary location while remediation works are being carried out.  

Commenting on the news, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “NAHT has repeatedly raised concerns about these buildings for a long time now, so while this news is shocking, sadly it is not hugely surprising. What we are seeing here are the very real consequences of a decade of swinging cuts to spending on school buildings. 

“The government is right to put the safety of pupils and staff first – if the safety of buildings cannot be guaranteed, there is no choice but to close them so urgent building work can take place. 

“But there is no escaping the fact that the timing of this couldn’t be worse, with children due to return from the summer holidays next week. This will put school leaders under tremendous pressure as they have to scramble to organise alternative accommodation. As always, they will put the safety of children and staff first and make the necessary arrangements, but they will need urgent support to do so, and emergency funding must be made available where it is needed. 

“This must now serve as the wake-up call for the government to start a proper programme of repairs and re-building right across the school estate – the minimum parents should be able to expect is for children to be taught in buildings that are safe and fit for purpose.” 

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