The government is being urged to carry out emergency nationwide checks for RAAC as thousands of schools are potentially yet to be assessed for the dangerous material.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has called for ministers to launch an “urgent audit” – to also include the wider public sector estate – after 104 schools were ordered to shut just days before the start of the new term.
The Department for Education ramped up its policy on RAAC – reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – to mandate all school buildings with it must now close.
This action was previously only taken in the worst cases, but this changed after officials learned over the summer of cases where buildings with RAAC collapsed despite not showing any signs of deterioration.
Goverment ‘sat on its hands for years’
Rayner accused the government of “sitting on its hands for years” before shutting schools “the week before term starts”.
“The public needs to know how much damage the Tories have done to our schools, prisons, hospitals and job centres over the past 13 years of incompetent government.
“An urgent, full audit is required to find out the extent that Conservative ministers failed to replace this dangerous concrete across the public sector estate.”
Ministers are coming under increasing pressure to publish a list of affected schools.
But schools minister Nick Gibb said today: “We will publish a list [of schools] when all the remediation measures are put in place and the schools are in a stable place, then we will publish a list.
We want the parents to hear from the school not to read about it in the media first.
Potentially 8,600 schools not checked for RAAC
The DfE sent responsible bodies – councils or academy trusts – a questionnaire to understand whether they had carried out work to identify RAAC in their schools in March.
It had focused its attentions on 14,900 schools with buildings constructed between 1930 and 1990.
But a National Audit Office report earlier this year revealed, as of May, almost 60 per cent of them (8,600) either “had not responded, had not completed work or were unaware of the risks posed by the concrete”.
It is understood that almost 95 per cent of the responsible bodies have now responded to the questionnaire. However, the DfE would not confirm how many schools this equates to.
So far, there are 156 confirmed cases of RAAC in primaries and secondaries. But speaking to ITV, schools minister Nick Gibb said there could be “a few more” buildings with the material that are yet to complete the questionnaire.
“The vast majority of those questionnaires have been returned and the vast majority that have been returned do not have RAAC.
“There are some still to do and when we get that information we send in surveyors. We’re talking about 156 schools [and] perhaps a few more, out of 22,500 schools in the system.
The department has insisted that it is on track to carry out 600 on-site surveys at schools “in the next couple of weeks”. It had originally aimed to have carried out the checks by December.
Schools hire marquees and portable toilets
Essex accounts for 50 affected schools. A spokesman for Essex Council stressed the disruption to “to local authority schools is minimal” as “most will be able to open as usual when term begins”.
“We anticipate one local authority school will be affected. We will not be naming schools impacted this time.”
Elsewhere in the country, Wood Green Academy in Sandwell has revealed it closed during the summer after RAAC was found during surveys.
Headteacher James Topham said up until yesterday the secondary was due to open as planned next Wednesday but with some classrooms closed until October.
However, he told parents that plan changed when DfE announced its “zero tolerance” approach meaning there is a “significantly increased likelihood of disruption to the start of the new academic year while further investigative work takes place”.
In his letter, Topham wrote “with deep regret and some frustration” at the situation adding no further information was yet available.
Meanwhile in Eltham, St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive is bringing in mobile toilet blocks after RAAC was found. The hall, gym, canteen, drama studio and toilets have all been closed.
It is also looking to hire a marquee for pupils to eat and prepare food, with youngsters advised they may have to bring a packed lunch for a short period of time.
Headteacher Stuart Sharp said prior to yesterday’s policy change, he was under the impression that RAAC found during the summer “was not an issue” and the school could operate normally with “annual visits by structural engineers”.