Instead, classrooms are being closed and families are left in the dark about the implications of serious safety concerns that appear to be just beginning as the concrete could suddenly collapse.
Read more: St Teresa’s Primary Darlington to close after RAAC finds
Some 104 schools and colleges, including a handful in the North East, have been ordered by the Education Department to partially or fully close buildings just as students prepare to return after the holidays, but the Government admitted yesterday that number could – and probably will do – raise.
The timing of the announcement understandably caused anger. The DfE has been considering reinforced aerated concrete (RAAC) as a potential issue since late 2018, but ministers say new evidence has only just come to light. But should schools have discovered just days before the new school year that some or all of their buildings were unsafe and unusable?
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There are two important things that need to happen now. Firstly, disruption to children’s education must be kept to a minimum.
Since lessons cannot take place in unsafe classrooms, temporary solutions will of course be necessary. But we saw the impact the disruption to education had on students during the pandemic – and it continues to have a lasting impact today.
Secondly, the chaos of the last two days shows why a major reconstruction program must be properly planned, budgeted and prioritized.
The report released by the National Audit Office earlier this year highlighted the deteriorating state of school facilities across the country due to a lack of investment as the condition of poor schools continues to deteriorate. The report found that 700,000 children in England were learning in schools that required major rebuilding or modernization.
And it’s not just schools where this is a problem. Hospitals face the same problems – with the North Tees hospital posing a particular problem in our region. Experts have also warned that offices, courthouses and factories are at risk of “sudden and catastrophic collapse” if RAAC is not removed.
On Friday, schools in the North East warned that school leaders need a period of stability and that implementing this education policy requires a clear strategic vision and long-term planning.
The deterioration of school buildings has been known to various governments, but the process of identifying and communicating to schools what support is needed is clearly failing students and staff.
If conservatives are serious about equalization, then ensuring schools’ basic needs and student safety are met is critical.