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How the Government Failed to Act on the Collapsing School Building Scandal

Ministers’ claims that the school building scandal only emerged ‘over the summer’ is contradicted by evidence of warnings going back years

Gillian Keegan Secretary for State for Education arrives in Downing Street Photo: Martin Dalton /Alamy

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Ministers claimed today that the collapsing school buildings issue only emerged as a serious problem in recent weeks. Education Minister Nick Gibbs told ITV this morning that “this is only an issue that emerged over the summer”.

However, this claim is refuted by a wealth of evidence, from local government to the National Audit Office, to one of the Government’s own agencies.

The problem actually first emerged five years ago when a school roof collapsed in Gravesend, Kent destroying the staff room and a computer room. No children were there when it happened.

The collapse alarmed Kent education authority who decided to alert all councils in England about the problem so everyone, including the Department for Education, were aware of the issue.

Then last September The Office for Government Property – which supports ​the government and the wider public sector to manage their estate more efficiently and effectively – issued a blunt warning  about the dangers of aerated concrete to Whitehall.

It said: “RAAC[aerated concrete] is now life-expired and liable to collapse – this has already happened in two schools with little or no notice.”

The National Audit Office, Parliament’s financial watchdog, decided to launch a thorough investigation into how many schools were affected and how much money schools needed to put it and other schools right. They came up with the figures of £7 billion but the Treasury was only prepared to spend £3.1 billion on the problem.

The NAO report, published at the end of June, revealed that there were 572 schools built using aerated concrete and provided a map broken into London boroughs and English education authorities, showing how much money was needed to be spent in each authority to bring all buildings, including those with aerated concrete, up to scratch. The government would have known  the NAO’s findings months before publication because it had to factually clear it with the Department for Education.


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Only then did the Department start checking some of the schools to see if they were safe.

During the summer holidays two school buildings using aerated concrete collapsed, one bringing a beam down and it seems only then that ministers began to panic and take action to protect children.

Last night Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, suddenly announced that over 100 schools were going to be closed, or partially closed, and the pupils diverted to temporary accommodation or other schools just before term begins next week.

The issue is that the buildings were constructed with aerated concrete which is now life-expired and prone to collapse without any warning.

 The ministry is refusing to release details of the two schools where the collapses occurred (including one last week) or to name the 104 schools being closed or partly closed. The ministry claimed that it didn’t want the media to overwhelm the schools concerned “saying it was up to the schools or the parents to make the information public”.

Despite this, information is leaking out with schools in Bradford, Leicester, Sheffield, Basingstoke, Brixton in south London, County Durham and a special school in Southend all facing closure or partial closure.

It also emerged on Thursday that seven of the hospitals being rebuilt or replaced also have aerated concrete problems and Harrow Crown Court has been closed for nine months to replace its aerated concrete roof.

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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”.  

Labour plans to challenge the Government over the issue next week when parliament returns.

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