- Watchdog flags safety lapses
- Parliament criticizes government response
- School buildings face concrete crisis
A watchdog of the House of Commons has expressed “extreme concern” that the Department of Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, lacked sufficient knowledge of the dangers across buildings to “ensure the safety of children and staff,” amidst warnings that an “absolute catastrophe” had been “averted by sheer luck.”
Members of parliament have described the government’s inability to furnish fundamental information regarding the crisis involving crumbling concrete in schools as “dispelling and shocking.” They have also issued “alarming” warnings regarding the condition of classroom structures.
The powerful House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman said a “absolute catastrophe” was “stupidly averted.”
The watchdog found it “extremely concerning” that Secretary Gillian Keegan’s education department lacked comprehension of the dangers throughout school buildings. The concern specifically revolved around the department’s ability to “keep children and staff safe.”
Warnings on Detrimental Impact on Education
Furthermore, the cross-party group warned that “an unacceptable number of students are learning in inadequately maintained or potentially hazardous buildings.” They emphasized that this situation is detrimental to their education.
The committee lodged its criticism in its report titled “The Condition Of School Buildings.” The report emphasized the severe issues resulting from the use of hazardous reinforced autoclaved concrete (RAAC).
The UK government ordered the closure of classrooms and other structures housing the potentially hazardous material in over a hundred English schools, nurseries, and colleges just days prior to the return from the summer break.
“Schools in dire need of assistance”
The committee reported that the Department for Education (DfE) was unable to provide information regarding the number of outstanding surveys used to identify RAAC, the number of temporary classrooms provided to schools impacted by the crisis, or when the concerns regarding the concrete type would be resolved.
The report recommended that the department promptly conclude its program of specialized surveys where RAAC is suspected. This is to assess the entire magnitude of the problem and clarify school funding for temporary mitigation measures.
Chair of the committee Dame Meg Hillier described the fact that “a significant proportion of children” are educated in “dilapidated or unsafe buildings” as “completely unacceptable.” Moreover, she stressed the urgent need for reform in the education infrastructure.
“The images of classroom ceilings that have collapsed and empty school desks that have been released in recent months are not merely damning indictments of a deteriorating school estate,” she continued.
They serve as eerie reminders of catastrophic events that were narrowly prevented by good fortune.
Authorities refute the report’s conclusions.
The National Education Union’s general secretary, Daniel Kebede, stated, “The RAAC crisis demonstrates the irrationality of permitting such a significant portion of the school estate to deteriorate.” Furthermore, he emphasized the need for urgent attention to address the issue.
However, a DfE spokesperson stated: “We do not endorse the committee’s assessment; in response to new evidence, the government has taken swift action to identify and support all schools with RAAC to ensure the safety of teachers and pupils.
“Questionnaire responses from all educational institutions in the impacted regions have been compiled at this time.” Few RAACs offer temporary remote learning, and most universities offer in-person training.
“We will do everything it takes to eliminate RAAC from the college and school.”
We work collaboratively with schools to accomplish remediation while minimising learning disruptions with RAAC.
“Our school reconstruction initiative is currently in progress, salvaging and renovating dilapidated school structures. Additionally, the initial 400 projects have been expeditiously selected.”