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School closures latest: Gillian Keegan admits there ‘could be hundreds’ of schools with unsafe concrete

“Hundreds” of schools in England could contain concrete at risk of collapsing, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said on Monday as she revealed around 1,500 are yet to return building surveys.

A total of 104 schools and colleges with RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) have been told by the Government to fully or partially shut buildings after a beam previously considered safe collapsed over the summer.

Among them are at least eight in London, while more classrooms across the country could be forced to shut as further assessments are made.

Speaking for the first time since the crisis emerged, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said during an interview round on Monday that around 1,500 English schools have not yet returned surveys issued by the Department for Education, to establish which buildings contain RAAC.

This equates to 10 per cent of the 15,000 that have been issued since March last year.

So far around one per cent of schools that have filled out questionnaires have been found to contain RAAC, Ms Keegan told Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The vast majority of surveys come back without RAAC,” she told the BBC. “But where we find it we will then treat all of them as critical and we will prop them up or put temporary accomodation into place.”

On the number of schools that could be affected, she said: “It could be hundreds, but we need to get the surveys back.”

Ms Keegan confirmed a full list of schools affected will be published later this week, following widespread calls for its release, though she did not say upon which day.

“I am just giving some time to make sure every school has has the capability to speak to parents,” she told BBC Breakfast.

She added that most of the schools affected by RAAC will remain open while the issue is fixed.

“The vast majority of children will be going back today,” she told Sky News. “There will be some where they’ve got quite extensive RAAC so they may close so that we can put temporary accommodation in place.

“Many schools are either looking for alternative accommodation, if they’re within a multi-academy trust or within a local authority, or moving to another classroom if they’ve got spare classroom.

“If it’s across the whole school, then that gets more difficult. So what we’re doing right now is we’ve assigned a caseworker for each one of the schools, for working with the school to figure out what the mitigation plans are.”

She told BBC Breakfast three Portakabin companies are ready to provide temporary accommodation for schools affected by crumbling concrete.

The full list of schools affected has not yet been released by the DfE, but several in London are known to be affected.

London schools known to be affected by RAAC

Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School, Brixton

The Ellen Wilkinson School, Ealing

St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, Brent

St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive, Eltham

St Mary Magdalene and St Stephen’s CE Primary School, Westminster

Three unidentified schools in the borough of Tower Hamlets, according to the BBC

The Government has come under fire from parents and teachers for announcing the closure of schools just days before pupils returned for the start of the new academic year.

But Ms Keegan defended the move on Monday, saying she chose to take a “very cautious approach” after instances over the summer where crumbling concrete had “failed” in settings previously classified as non-critical.

“What happened over the summer is we had three cases – some in schools, some not in schools – and I sent structural engineers out to see them. Some were in commercial settings, and some in different jurisdictions.

“So I decided to take a very cautious approach. And I knew it was going to be difficult because, you know, obviously, for parents, for teachers, this coming so late in August, but that’s when we got the evidence that a panel had failed in a roof that had previously been classified as non-critical.”

She added: “I wasn’t willing to take the risk. It was just one panel, but it was in a roof that had been assessed as non-critical.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt moved to reassure parents the Government would “spend what it takes” to address the problem, but Treasury sources later said money for repairs would come from the Department for Education’s (DfE) existing capital budget.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said it is a “scandal that as children are just returning to school ministers are still not being upfront about the scale of what we are facing”.

“It’s vital that they publish the list of all the schools as soon as possible,” she said.

“If they don’t do that, we’ll force a vote in the House of Commons to make sure that parents can know exactly what’s going on.

“This is completely unacceptable, children have seen so much disruption to their education and ministers need to get a grip on this because this is a department that is in complete chaos.”

Ms Keegan is preparing to inform Parliament this week of the Government’s plans to address the problem.

Remote learning for children unable to access face-to-face lessons should last “days, not weeks”, the Government has said, but ministers have not said exactly when the disruption might ease.

Education leaders have been encouraged to use community centres, empty office buildings or other schools while structural supports are installed to mitigate the risk of collapse.

Unions have been angered by uncertainty about which costs will be covered by central Government, calling for transparency on whether headteachers will be reimbursed for mitigation expenditure.

Ms Phillipson said she was concerned that “raiding” the DfE’s capital budget – money for buildings and infrastructure – to fund repairs could have a negative effect in the long-term.

The crisis over the potentially dangerous concrete will add to the challenges in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s intray as Parliament returns.

Concerns about RAAC – a lightweight concrete used up until the mid-1990s – in public buildings were raised in 2018, prompting accusations that ministers have failed to act quick enough.

Experts have warned that the risks may extend beyond schools to hospitals, court buildings and prisons, where the material is present.

Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also being assessed for RAAC.

The Scottish Government has said it is present in 35 schools, but that none posed an “immediate risk” to pupil safety.

The Welsh Government said councils and colleges have not reported any presence of RAAC.