DfE doesn’t know which schools are at risk of collapse

Unions demand to know what government is doing to understand and fix 'shocking' risks to the estate

Unions demand to know what government is doing to understand and fix 'shocking' risks to the estate

Schools with identified RAAC are being urged to put contingency plans in place in case of closure by the DfE

The government has said it does not know which schools are at risk of collapse, despite admitting last year that buildings collapsing is now “very likely”.

Unions have demanded the government take action to better understand the condition of the school estate, and to address risks of collapse.

The Department for Education’s response to a freedom of information request from Unison, seen by Schools Week, states the number of buildings at risk and the names of the schools affected are “not held” by the department.

Unions say they were told something similar during a recent meeting with DfE officials, and that the data was not held because the government’s condition data collection survey “was only a visual inspection”.

This is despite the DfE escalating its own risk level of school buildings collapsing to “very likely” in its annual report and accounts last year after a rise in reported “serious structural issues” and failing to get extra capital cash from the Treasury.

The government has been under mounting pressure to publish more detail from the CDC survey, after a document revealed in 2021 that repairing or replacing all defects in England’s schools would cost £11.4 billion.

Info on schools at risk ‘not held’ by DfE

Unison, one of a group of unions that has today written to the education secretary Gillian Keegan about the “shocking” state of school buildings, requested the number at risk of collapse and the names of the schools affected in an FOI request.

In the response, the DfE said: “Following a search of the department’s paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by this department.”

It said the building safety risk level “was uprated to reflect an increasingly ageing estate, with more buildings reaching the end of their design life and recognising the risk from the nature of materials and approaches used to build schools in the post-war period”.

In the letter, also signed by support staff unions the GMB and Unite, teaching unions Community, NASUWT and the National Education Union and leadership union NAHT, they pointed to the DfE’s “shocking admission” in its accounts.

“We have reached absolute rock bottom, and this comes at a time when there is also an urgent need to invest in retrofitting schools to ensure that they are climate resilient and energy efficient, and to consider how ventilation, indoor and outdoor air quality can be improved to reduce the likelihood of infectious diseases spreading.”

Fears over use of RAAC concrete

The unions also warned that “many buildings contain materials that were never intended to be still in use”. 

This includes reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a “crumbly” type of concrete used widely in flat-roofed school buildings.

A Schools Week investigation recently found at least 41 schools across 15 local authorities had RAAC, and another 150 are either suspected to have RAAC or need extensive investigation.

But it also found settings faced a postcode lottery over the little-known building material, with some areas facing greater risks and costs as a result of ageing panels and council inaction.

In their letter, the unions said they had a “short discussion” with officials recently, and that they were “extremely concerned that the department admitted…that it does not know which buildings are of concern, as the condition data collection exercise was only a visual inspection”.

Unions have again asked for a full list of buildings at risk of collapse, and what steps are being taken to get more responses to a survey of schools about RAAC.

They have also asked what measures the government is taking to get a “full and accurate” picture of the state of the school estate, and what measures they will take to “eradicate the risk of collapse”.

The DfE was approached for comment.

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