The government won’t confirm its deadline to rid every school of crumbly RAAC until the new year, Gillian Keegan has said.
The education secretary said she would not give a “definitive date” until mitigations to make every school safe were complete.
Ministers and officials have scrambled to respond to the growing crumbly concrete crisis in schools since changing guidance just days before the beginning of the autumn term.
The government has pledged to rebuild all schools “that need it”, but has repeatedly refused to set a deadline for removing RAAC from the school estate entirely.
Addressing the Parliamentary education committee this morning, Keegan said her “first objective I have is to make every school safe”.
Work to shore up dangerous school buildings has involved building hardwood structures or steel beams below RAAC to prevent collapse.
Keegan said she hoped such works would be complete “in the very near future”.
‘Safe schools is my first objective’
A panel of experts is then sorting schools into “two groups” – those that will receive grant funding to remove RAAC, and those that will be fully or partially rebuilt.
Keegan said she understood schools were “keen to understand where they are, and we’ll be issuing that [information] as soon as possible.
“We will be able to give you a definitive date when all schools are safe from RAAC because that was my very first objective.”
Pressed by MPs, Keegan said this would be “very shortly”, but not before Christmas, calling the expected announcement a “new year present”.
It is anticipated that schools with RAAC will take up the remaining 100 slots in the government’s existing school rebuilding programme, but ministers have said they will fund other projects if needed.
Keegan told MPs today “we have got a commitment from the Treasury that we will do what we need to do to rebuild if there’s more than the 100 slots, and I think it’s fair to say that I anticipate it probably will be more which is why we got that in the first place”.
The crisis has also prompted a scramble to get temporary buildings onto school sites to teach displaced pupils. Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE’s permanent secretary, revealed today that 41 settings now had 215 temporary units.
But she was unable to confirm how many settings that need temporary buildings have not yet received them, admitting there will “still be settings that we have identified later in the process that need temporary buildings that don’t have them yet”.
“There will also be settings that didn’t need temporary buildings in order to get all pupils back into face to face education but might still benefit from some specialist units.”
School faces temporary classroom delay
But Anna Firth, the MP for Southend West, warned schools faced long delays in receiving temporary classrooms. Kingsdown special school in her patch was “absolutely promised that those temporary buildings would be in place and up and in use after half term”.
“But they were not. And I had to intervene because no fire certificate had been applied-for.”
Acland-Hood said children were “all back on site from November 10”, but added “I’m sorry it didn’t happen as early as it should have done”.
However, Keegan said it was down to schools’ responsible bodies to apply for fire certificates “so we will take that up with them”. The school is part of the SEN Trust Southend.
Keegan also revealed today that all schools and colleges with suspected RAAC had received their “first surveys”, with more confirmed cases expected to be identified.
But she said the pattern seen so far of emerging cases suggested “there will only be probably a handful more cases because it’s definitely, massively slowed down”.
Some schools also need a second survey, and for some schools surveyors “may be waiting for Christmas” to carry out more invasive work when children are not around.