01 September, 2023
As the parent of a school aged child I, like many other parents, teachers and those employed in education was gearing up for the return to school next week. Concentrating on pulling together the correct uniform, purchasing a multitude of coloured pens and trying to find the PE bag. What I suspect none of us were expecting was an announcement 2 working days before the reopening of the majority of the schools across the country to say that some may need to close due to their potentially dangerous condition.
Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people is of paramount importance in accordance with the statutory safeguarding guidance of Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE).
In the post war period, primarily from the 1950's to 1990's, there was a significant school building project to rebuild and expand the post war education infrastructure. In order to meet these needs some schools around the country were partially built, or had extensions added, using a construction material calls RAAC or Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete. It has been known for quite some time, some references being as early as the mid 1990's, that RAAC had a shelf life of 30 years, after which its structure would begin to deteriorate.
The Government report that they have known about substantial risks with RAAC since 2018 following a classroom ceiling collapse of a school in Kent, with a warning being sent out in 2021 and questionnaires being sent out to schools 2022 to try and establish which schools might have this material in the construction of their building.
The national audit office reported in June 2023 about the dire state of school buildings.
Indeed, Harrow Crown Court has had to close recently in mid-August 2023 due to life expired concrete that was liable to collapse spotted during preliminary work to improve the roof similar collapse of roof ceiling and it may impact on other public buildings where the same material has been used.
The HSE gave advice in mid Augustmid-August 2023, that RAAC is now life expired and is liable to collapse with little or no notice.
It also part of the greater problem with school buildings being under funded and using materials which are now deemed hazardous including asbestos etc
It would appear that during the summer break a number of school buildings collapsed or showed evidence of potential for collapse prompting the urgent guidance to schools issued by the DfE. None of these incidents resulted in injury but their existence has resulted in the Government changing their previous assessment of risk with regards to whether RAAC posses an immediate problem. They are therefore now advising education settings to close any spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC, irrespective of whether they are deemed to be showing deterioration or not, to allow mitigations to be put in place.
At time of writing, around 104 schools have already been contacted by the Government and advised that they will have to close all or some of their provision. Schools will therefore either have to close fully or make arrangements to move children around the school estate to safe areas, change none teaching areas into teaching areas, or arrange for initial on lone learning to take place…again.
If you haven't returned the questionnaire sent by the DfE in March 2022, then please do so immediately if you suspect that your school buildings have RAAC on site. The DfE will arrange for a survey to be undertaken and your school will be assigned a case worker.
If your school is affected, the school will have been or will be contacted by the DfE. A full list of schools has not yet been published as Government has said that they wish schools to contact parents at first instance. For those schools where this issue is known, they will be provided with a designated case worker and there is suggestion from Government publications that capital funding will be available to assist with implementation of mitigation measures.
Without wishing to cause panic stations, there may still be schools were such RAAC has not been identified or surveyed as yet. The DfE has suggested that, if the school or responsible body is worried about RAAC, they should fill out the questionnaire and based on the answers given the school may well be brought forward for surveying.
To access the questionnaire and current Government guidance please use this link Everything you need to know about the new guidance on RAAC in education settings - The Education Hub (blog.gov.uk)
From a practical point of view it is time to call your business and facilities managers in, walk around the school and see what you can see. If you don't know whether you have RAAC, put together a contingency plan. Be prepared to vacate - have a plan and some form of alternative accommodation in mind or a strategy for alternative methods of learning with remote learning being deemed a last resort.
The LGA previously published advice with regards to identifying RAAC which could be useful and can be found here Information on Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) | Local Government Association. Also in this link is the Institution of Structural Engineers report and further guidance on the investigation and assessment of RAAC.
The Government guidance confirms that any mitigation works that are capital-funded will be covered by the DfE. However, local authorities or trusts, or non-maintained nurseries, will have to use their own funding to cover any additional revenue costs, such as rental costs for emergency or temporary accommodation or additional transport costs if pupils have to travel elsewhere. Check your funding situation.
Any setting with a commercial insurance provider should talk to them about covering these issues, or consult the Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA) if it is a member.
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