The accuracy of the government’s RAAC school data has been thrown into doubt after responsible bodies were wrongly told they had failed to complete surveys for the dangerous material.
Meanwhile other trusts have been unable to provide updated information about the presence of RAAC on their sites, while another had to tell the government it was missing from the official list, despite having the ‘crumbly concrete’
Education secretary Gillian Keegan told academy trust leaders and councils yesterday to “get off their backsides” and complete the questionnaire on the presence of RAAC by the end of this week.
A letter sent yesterday warned government is “likely” to publish information about schools with the concrete, those that do not contain it and any “where there is still uncertainty”.
But the Association of School and College Leaders is now calling on ministers to review their systems after six leaders reported being contacted, despite filling in the questionnaires months ago.
In a letter sent to Keegan, both ASCL and NAHT have demanded an apology for her comments – claiming she even “acknowledged” the technical issues with the government’s survey during a meeting this week.
‘I was checking my RAAC surveys at 12am’
Dartmoor MAT chief executive Dan Morrow was left scrambling through each of his 18 schools’ completed questionnaires at midnight after receiving the “threatening” message, which said he not yet “fully completed” it.
Morrow said: “I checked the portals and submissions for every single one of my schools, so just after midnight I could confirm we were all good. It’s not the kind of thing you want to be doing at that time.
“One of the benefits of being a medium-to-large trust is we do employ surveyors to give us an overview of our estates. It was basically saying ‘you’re on the naughty step and we’re going to let everyone know you’re not doing your duty’.”
Morrow also stated that the letter “didn’t note specific schools” and that it said “you haven’t done what you to do, without saying what we haven’t done”.
Wrong trusts sent RAAC warning letter
ASCL said today it has reports of at least six similar incidents directly from trust and school leaders “raising concerns about the accuracy of the DfE’s records”.
All of them had told the union “that they returned their surveys many months ago but on Monday night they received the letter … effectively threatening to name and shame them if they did not complete it by Friday”.
In two of the cases trusts had “overseen a transfer of schools and have questioned whether the DfE’s systems may have not transferred previously completed questionnaires” to them.
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton added: “In light of what we are hearing, we would urge the DfE to review its systems to see whether at least some of these supposedly non-returned surveys – and possibly a great many – were in fact returned but have not been recorded as such due to a technical error.”
NAHT also accused the education secretary of “failing to reveal that many responsible bodies” have attempted to return the survey but have been unable to do so.
“[This is] a situation you acknowledged in the margins of yesterday’s meeting,” their letter to Keegan added.
Meanwhile, the Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust told Schools Week one of its new-build academies, St Michael’s in Stockton-on-Tees, “had been placed on a ‘watch list’ for RAAC in error”.
The school was “completely rebuilt in 2016”, the trust said. But RAAC was commonly used in construction between the 1930s and 1980s.
Blunder sees 2016 school added to RAAC ‘watchlist’
Schools Week has also learned that Farlingaye High in Woodbridge was not told to close by ministers last week – despite being identified as having RAAC.
East Anglian Schools’ Trust CEO Angelo Goduti said RAAC had been identified “in a number of blocks” at the school, shortly after the DfE first released the questionnaire last year.
Additional surveys had been booked in in May, but “there was no indication of urgency at that stage”.
But when the DfE escalated its policy last week – ordering all schools with RAAC to close rather than just the worst cases – the chain contacted the government to say it had not been told to shut.
“We were added to the list as a result of us informing them,” Goduti said. “It was quite concerning that despite the surveys and information we’d provided, we were still informing them that we were in that position.”
Farlingaye has since sealed off parts of its site found to contain the crumbly concrete.
The DfE said it has heard from “some trusts” that they have wrongly received letters about the questionnaire, but insisted such “discrepancies are rare”.
The department added that it has launched a review into the incidents and that it has been “extra cautious, making sure we have the full picture if we think anything responsible bodies have written [in the questionnaires] needs following up”.