The government will fund the cost of temporary buildings on sites of schools forced to close due to RAAC, schools minister Nick Gibb has said.
But councils and academy trusts will have to foot the bill for any revenue costs for hiring temporary accommodation that isn’t on a school site, as well as transporting pupils elsewhere.
Guidance issued by the Department for Education (DfE) yesterday said officials expected schools, Councils and trusts – to “fund anything that is an additional revenue cost”.
“For example rental costs for emergency or temporary accommodation for education settings or additional transport costs for local authorities”.
The National Education Union (NEU) said the advice added “insult to injury” after the DfE announced more than 100 schools must immediately shut buildings just a few days before the new academic year starts.
These buildings contain RAAC – or reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – a “crumbly” concrete with a lifespan of 30 years.
Who will foot the bill for RAAC repairs?
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Gibb said the NEU had “misinterpreted the guidance”.
“We’re going to clarify that guidance because of their misinterpretation. We are paying for those costs,” he said.
“So if in the worst case scenario a school does have to close and we put portakabins into the grounds, all that cost will be covered by the department and any remedial cost to the school building, that will all be covered by the DfE.”
But in a separate interview with Sky News, Gibb clarified that the DfE would “cover all capital costs”.
The DfE quietly updated its guidance overnight.
It now sets out that it expects leaders and responsible bodies to cover additional revenue costs, but only offering the example of additional transport costs for local authorities.
It is understood that revenue costs could also include hiring off-site accommodation, such as community centres. However officials do not estimate many schools will have to use this route.
But any costs relating to on-site temporary buildings – which government said would be capital costs – will be funded.
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the NEU, said it was “right that Government has u-turned on costs that could well have been almost impossible for already beleaguered schools”.
But he added: “Instead of admitting they have made this change, and owning it, Nick Gibb had the temerity to suggest that those who read this very clear guidance last night had ‘got the wrong end of the stick’.”
“Nick Gibb must now be absolutely clear on what costs will or will not be taken on by Government.”
Collapsed school beam prompted escalation
Prior to yesterday, DfE-commissioned surveyors had rated identified RAAC in schools from critical to low risk.
Buildings deemed critical were immediately closed for remediation works.
Asked why the advice had changed overnight, Gibb told the BBC the department had discovered “a number of instances” over summer “where RAAC that had been considered to be a low risk actually turned out to be unsafe”.
This included schools and other buildings, in England and in other countries.
But he added that a “beam collapsed” at one school, with no sign “that it was a critical risk”.
The schools minister said the decision had come during the last week of the summer holidays “because we were looking at the evidence”.
“We had to discuss that evidence with experts. It is a big decision to take.”
List of affected schools to be published when in ‘stable place’
Although several of the affected schools have already been revealed in the media, Gibb said the DfE would not yet publish a full list.
“When all the remediation measures are put in place and the schools are in a stable place, then we will publish a list,” he told the programme.
“We want the parents to hear from the school not to read about it in the media first.”
So the short answer is no, but we are likely to find out before the DfE publishes its own list.
Gibb happy for pupils to be working under steel girders
During his media round, Gibb also told LBC that the widescale issue would resolved “earlier” than Christmas.
“We hope in a couple of weeks at the latest, we will have alternative accommodation in place or remedial work done in the school if that’s possible to make it safe.”
Remedial work may include ‘propping’ up buildings, such as is already in place at hospitals containing the material.
Gibb told LBC he would be happy for his niece and nephews to be sitting in a classroom under a “steel girder on props”.
“We’re taking a very precautionary approach, some would say we’re being over precautious with this. The advice is you can prop up these beams,” he added.
“Where they are in a more dangerous condition, we take that room out of it altogether.”