The Guardian

Up to 700,000 pupils studying in England’s ‘unsafe’ schools

Michael Savage Policy Editor

The state of disrepair of some schools is so bad that 700,000 pupils are learning in classrooms that need a major rebuild or refurbishment, according to a damning parliamentary inquiry into the school estate.

This year’s crisis over crumbling and potentially dangerous concrete means other schools in dire need of an overhaul will not be included in the government’s rebuilding programme.

MPs on the powerful public accounts committee, which examined the state of school repairs, also warned of a “shocking and disappointing” lack of basic information from the government on the concrete crisis in schools. It said that there were now unacceptable numbers of pupils learning in “poorly maintained or potentially unsafe buildings”.

It states that the school rebuilding programme (SRP) has become dominated by fears over the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac). The committee said many of the 100 schools still to be selected for the SRP will be chosen because of serious Raac issues, leaving other run-down schools in limbo. An estimated 700,000 pupils attend the 1,200 schools considered for the SRP.

“The images of classroom ceilings collapsed on to empty school desks released in recent months are not just searing indictments of a deteriorating school estate,” said Dame Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair. “They are also chilling reminders of absolute catastrophe averted through sheer luck. Given the poor condition of so many of these buildings, the government’s prime challenge now is to keep the safety of children and staff absolutely paramount.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it “beggars belief” that ministers should still lack a clear plan to deal with deteriorating school buildings.

“We urgently need clarity from ministers on when Raac will be dealt with, and a proper long-term plan to ensure the school estate is fit for purpose, both backed by the significant new funding that will be needed. This should be a top priority for next week’s autumn statement.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We do not accept the committee’s assessment – the government has taken swift action, responding to new evidence, to identify and support all schools with Raac, to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers.

“We have now gathered questionnaire responses from all education settings in the affected areas. The vast majority have no Raac and continue to provide full-time face-to-face education for all pupils.”

They added: “Where school buildings are found to contain Raac, we are working closely with them to ensure that remediation work is carried out and disruption to learning is minimised.”