Schools do not need to splash out on “costly” surveys when scoping out their school buildings for a material liable to collapse, officials have said.
For the past year, the Department for Education has been urging schools and responsible bodies to check for reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) and complete a questionnaire.
Government property officials say the material – a “crumbly type of concrete used widely in flat-roofed school buildings mostly built pre-1980s – can be “liable to collapse”.
Guidance sent out in December sets out a five-stage RAAC identification process, with “information collection” as the first.
Rob Read, the department’s education estates building safety lead, said some schools and responsible bodies used external suppliers for surveys, “which have been costly”.
He told the Schools and Academies Show:“That cost could have been avoided through information gathering, record information, understanding anecdotally anything that is known by any other staff about the school or just by looking at the structure. There’s not a very high bar for that.”
The guidance says that a specialist engineer need not be appointed until stage three.
All reports of suspected RAAC are investigated by DfE-commissioned structural engineers with site surveys confirming its presence, the department said.
‘Evolving picture’ on schools impacted
Ministers appear to have rowed back on the idea of publishing survey responses.
Jonathan Gullis, the then schools minister, said in October that “depending upon the survey uptake in the next six months, an initial estimate may be issued in April 2023”.
However, last month, Nick Gibb, the current minister, said the DfE “only holds partial data and is not able to provide details of schools that contain RAAC elements”.
The government would, however, consider releasing outcomes from the questionnaire in the future. Read added it was an “evolving picture”.
A Schools Week investigation last autumn found at least 41 schools across 15 councils had RAAC. Another 150 were suspected or needed extensive investigation.
Read said the department had not found any RAAC in school walls, but had discovered it in floors and roofs.
Existing capital programmes would support schools, among “ongoing conversations” with Treasury about “what next”, he said.