Ministers have given an “assurance” that academy trusts and councils deemed by the government not to have filled in their RAAC questionnaire “will not be named publicly”, a sector leader has said in correspondence seen by Schools Week.
The government has also agreed to “seek expert advice” about “grave concern” that visual inspections of schools may not be “sufficient in relation to concealed RAAC”.
Schools Week reported earlier this week that 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.
Baroness Barran gave assurance that responsible bodies will not be named publicly. I have asked for this assurance in writing
The questionnaire – and the supposed failure of around 5 per cent of schools to complete it since it launched last March – has become a central plank to the government’s defence of its handling of the crumbly concrete crisis.
Education secretary Gillian Keegan told schools to “get off their backside” and fill it in.
Ministers even warned in a letter earlier this week that the DfE is “likely to be required to publish information about schools which have RAAC, schools which do not, and schools where there is still uncertainty”.
One leader called the suggestion of naming and shaming such schools as “threatening”.
Minister ‘offered unreserved apology’
It has since emerged some 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 building material.
School leaders have also said there is a lag of 48 hours of uploading RAAC data and this then feeding into DfE lists.
On Wednesday, more than 400 members of the Confederation of School Trusts received a virtual briefing from Baroness Barran, the DfE minister leading on the response to the RAAC crisis.
In a briefing to members after the meeting, seen by Schools Week, chief executive Leora Cruddas said a “significant number of CST members reported concerns about the RAAC portal”.
“What has emerged is that many or most of you had already done so – for a number of you, multiple times. The minister offered an unreserved apology for the tone of the letter and the fact that it appears to have been sent in error to many CST members.”
But she said Barran “gave assurance that responsible bodies will not be named publicly. I have asked for this assurance in writing.”
Unease over government guidance
The government escalated its RAAC policy last week – meaning all school buildings with the material must now close, rather than just those deemed “high risk”.
The increased risk around RAAC has prompted concerns from the sector about the reliability of government advice.
Cruddas said “many CST members have expressed grave concern about the reliability of the DfE guidance and are questioning whether they can rely on it”.
“Although I have been told by officials that there is a ‘triage’ and that visual inspection is not the only indicator of RAAC, we heard … from members that they do not believe that this is sufficient in relation to concealed RAAC, which requires an invasive survey.”
Previous DfE guidance encouraged an initial “visual inspection” by “someone who has responsibility for building or estate management as well as the day-to-day running of the school”.
But “depending on experience, advice may be required from a building professional”.
However it was only once RAAC was “suspected or identified” that schools were recommended to appoint a specialist structural engineering consultant, and only at stage four of the process was an “intrusive” investigation recommended.
Updated guidance last week – when the government escalated its response – also recommends an initial visual inspection, but states that if responsible bodies were still “unsure” after that process, they should appoint an expert.
Cruddas said Barran had “offered to take this issue away and seek expert advice. I have asked for the DfE’s assessment or risk and reassurance on this matter as soon as possible”.
As reported by the Evening Standard, Barran also offered an “unreserved apology” for the tone of her email earlier this week urging responsible bodies to complete the questionnaire.