In crumbling Tory Britain tens of thousands of children are being taught in schools liable to collapse without warning. The Department for Education (DfE) has said 156 schools have buildings with the RAAC type of concrete which is now openly identified as dangerous.
But thousands that have not yet been assessed could also have used the material.
And there are now fears that as structures fall apart they could release deadly asbestos, adding to the threat.
Trade union leaders should be telling teachers and other staff to refuse to work until there is certainty that schools are safe. And students should refuse to be herded into potentially unsafe schools.
Anne, a parent at one of the schools affected on the outskirts of London, told Socialist Worker, “I am frightened about the school’s safety. A group of us parents are talking about what we can do. I don’t think it should reopen until we know it’s safe.”
Of the 156 schools on the government list, the DfE said 52 were at risk of sudden collapse and action had to be taken immediately to make them safe.
The other 104 are currently scrambling to put safety measures in place to stay open. These range from closing down facilities such as computer rooms, bringing in temporary teaching spaces such as shipping containers, or closing the school temporarily and forcing students onto remote learning.
The Tories have not announced new money to fund repairs in England. A senior civil service whistleblower told the Observer newspaper that Tory ministers and their political advisers were “dangerously complacent” about buildings with RAAC. He said they were more concerned with saving money than improving safety.
The source, who worked in the private office of Nadhim Zahawi, the then education secretary, saw regular alerts crossing his desk. He said ministers and special advisers were “trying to get away with spending as little as they could”
RAAC and asbestos are often found in the same buildings as both materials were used extensively in the 1960s and after.
If asbestos is disturbed, as in a building collapse, it could release fibres that, if inhaled, can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
It emerged in July that thousands of children were still being taught in schools that contained asbestos, despite a ban being imposed on the material by 1999.
Around 10,000 teachers, pupils and staff are estimated to have died from asbestos exposure at school in the last four decades.
Governments have been warned of the risks posed by RAAC since the 1990s. But it has taken until now for a general alert to go out. The Health and Safety Executive has declared RAAC “life expired”.
Squeezing cash for schools, putting holding down costs before safety, and letting private firms maintain schools have led to this.
There are also 24 hospital sites in England where the weaker concrete is present. Separately, seven NHS sites managed by NHS Property Services—which runs buildings including some care centres, GP surgeries and hospitals—have RAAC.
Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) is a lightweight—and cheap— building material that was predominantly used in roofs between the 1960s and the 1980s.
RAAC is easy to mould into panels. A grid of steel bars is set into the panels to stop them bending or snapping.
But the tiny holes in the material allow water in, which corrodes the steel. This can be hard to spot because it does not display obvious cracks, unlike normal concrete.
In 2018 the roof of a primary school in Kent made from RAAC collapsed with no warning. Fortunately, it occurred at a weekend when the building was empty.
The NEU union says the Tories have slashed the school building budget. If it had been held at the level set in 2010 and kept up with rising prices, it would have averaged about £2.7 billion more each year. That’s a total of almost £35 billion over the 13-year period.
Daniel Kebede, NEU general secretary, said, “This situation will cause massive disruption to the education of thousands of children. The blame of course lies firmly with this government whose perpetual lack of investment in school buildings has left our school estate in such a dire state of disrepair.
“For months the NEU has been pressing the Government to publish a full list of schools with buildings at risk of collapse, but this has not happened.”
A DfE document in December 2022 said RAAC panels “increase the risk of structural failure, which can be gradual or sudden with no warning” and that “sudden failure of RAAC panels in roofs, eaves, floors, walls and cladding systems would be dangerous and the consequences serious”.
The government’s scandalous lack of real action has to be met with resistance from students, parents and unions.
Which schools are affected?
The government has not issued a list of the 156 schools known to have buildings using RAAC. But there are reports of closures, emergency repairs and delays to the new term at these schools:
Abbey Lane Primary School, Sheffield
Arthur Bugler Primary School, Standford-le-Hope, Thurrock
The Appleton School, Essex
The Billericay School, Billericay, Essex
Buckhurst Hill Community Primary School, Essex
Canon Slade School, Bolton, Greater
Carmel College and Sixth Form, Darlington, County Durham
Clacton County High School, Clacton,
Claydon High School, Ipswich,
Cleeve Park School, Sidcup
Cockermouth School, Cockermouth, Cumbria
The Coopers’ Company and Coburn School, Essex
Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School, Brixton, London
Cranbourne College, Basingstoke, Hampshire
Crossflatts Primary School, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Donnington Wood Infants School, Donnington, Telford, Shropshire
East Bergholt High School, Colchester, Essex
Eldwick Primary School, Bradford
The Ellen Wilkinson School, London
Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge, Suffolk
Fulwood Secondary, Preston, Lancashire
Ferryhill School, a secondary in County Durham
The Gilberd School, Colchester, Essex
Greenway Junior School, Horsham
Hadleigh High School, Hadleigh, Suffolk
Hatfield Peverel Junior School, Chelmsford, Essex
Hockley Primary School, Hockley, Essex
Holy Trinity Catholic Academy, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire
Honywood School, Colchester, Essex
Jerounds Primary School in Harlow, Essex
Katherines Primary Academy, Harlow, Essex
Kingsdown School, Southend-on-Sea
Mayflower Primary School, Leicester, Leicestershire
Myton School, Warwick, Warwickshire
Our Lady’s Catholic High School, Preston, Lancashire
Outwoods Primary School, Atherstone, North Warwickshire
Parks Primary, Leicester, Leicestershire
Pershore High School, Worcestershire
Ramsey Academy, Halstead, Essex
Ravens Academy, Clacton-On-Sea, Essex
Scalby School, Scarborough
St Bartholomew’s Catholic Primary School, Kent
St Bede’s Catholic School and Byron Sixth Form College, County Durham
St Clere’s School, Stanford-le-Hope, Essex
St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, Harrow, London
St James Catholic Primary School, Hebburn, Tyne and Wear
St Leonard’s School, Durham, County Durham
St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School, Darlington, County Durham
St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive, Eltham, London
Tendring Technology College, Frinton Campus, Essex
Thomas Lord Audley School, Colchester, Essex
Thurstable school and sixth form, Essex
White Hall Academy primary, Clacton, Essex
Willowbrook Mead Primary Academy, Leicester, Leicestershire
Winter Gardens Academy, Canvey Island, Essex
Wood Green Academy, Wednesbury, West Midlands
Woodville Primary School, South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford, Essex
Wyburns Primary School, Rayleigh, Essex