Parents are withdrawing their children from schools with crumbling RAAC, with heads warning of a “catastrophic” impact on their budgets amid uncertainty over when buildings will be fully repaired.
Schools Week has spoken to four leaders across nine schools with RAAC who are aware of parents applying to move or are actively considering it since the start of term.
Heads say some families of pupils are worried about further disruption to their child’s education after the pandemic.
There is uncertainty both over the time to complete mitigation works – such as installing temporary classrooms or boarding up RAAC – so children can learn at school again, as well as longer-term repairs or rebuilds for those affected.
Leaders are also worried RAAC will put parents off from applying next year.
Parents of children going into secondary school must make choices by end of October. Open days are also held during the Autumn term, with some schools with RAAC unable to host them.
One large multi-academy trust leader said more than 20 parents across several schools with confirmed RAAC have applied to transfer in three weeks.
“We are having conversations with these parents, but it’s mainly caused by parents not really wanting their children to be mucked about and sent to a variety of different locations for school.
“Then there’s the long-term uncertainty of what’s going to happen to schools and it’s clearly not going to be removed in the near future.”
The government will fund longer-term refurbishment or rebuilding projects to permanently remove RAAC through capital grants or through the school rebuilding programme, education secretary Gillian Keegan told the Commons this week.
However, she gave no timeline on when this could start to happen. Under the rebuilding programme, for instance, many schools will not be rebuilt until 2030.
The head said: “We are keeping parents well up to date, but we can only tell them what we know and are allowed to tell them. It’s not like I can make all of these decisions myself. I’ve got to check with civil servants.”
They said five or 10 students leaving “is a devastating amount of money”, adding that ministers should safeguard future years’ funding at this year’s level for RAAC-impacted schools.
Schools need funding reassurance
Geoff Barton, general secretary at ASCL heads’ union, said this “underlines the need for the DfE to set out a long-term plan of how they are going to support schools with RAAC.
School leaders need reassurance over the wider funding implications of managing this situation and it is only natural for parents to want clarity over the form their child’s education is going to take going forward.”
The leaders would only share their stories on the condition of anonymity amid fears sharing their concern could trigger more parents to leave.
Another head said two families had already moved, with up to four considering it.
“The families that have moved have said it’s nothing to do with you,” he said.
“They are thinking that the rest of the academic year in temporary accommodation – it’s not going to be what they expected or planned.
“If there’s a school down the road where everything is stable, and isn’t potentially changing, then some parents might look and see that.”
Any drop in pupil numbers would be “catastrophic for our budgets” and “it’s not our fault at all”, they added. Most funding schools get is on a per-pupil basis.
Parents putting kids ‘on strike’
Another head said “a couple of parents” had mentioned transferring, with parents “getting quite agitated” at the situation.
Some had threatened putting their children “on strike” by refusing to allow them to engage with remote learning to put pressure on government to “do something quicker”.
“Heads are at the sharp edge of it. We are trying to deal with the staff, kids and governors who are stressed, then trying to manage builders on site.”
A fourth leader has fewer than five parents wishing to transfer, but is concerned that number could grow as the term goes on.
“I worry about the degree of patience of the parents and the children,” they said. “The [DfE] caseworkers are generally trying to do their best… it’s the length of time for resolutions we face, I’m not sure how many parents have realised that.”
The leader is also worried about admissions and the possibility of being “put off applying to be part of a school community – no matter how successful – where there’s maybe an ongoing significant degree of disruption”.
Schools Week spoke to three other heads with RAAC-affected schools who said no parents had mentioned moving school yet.
Mitigations ‘take the clock off’
Baroness Barran, academies minister, told MPs this week that putting temporary classrooms “is very often not a quick fix”.
The Bromfords School in Wickford, Essex, has pupils learning at home as it waits for temporary classrooms. However, it is currently looking at reopening “no later than” November 20.
Barran also said “semi-permanent” timber ceilings can be put in place under RAAC-affected areas and these can last for 10 years.
Susan Acland-Hood, DfE’s permanent secretary, said these “comfortable and reasonable” mitigations “take the clock off, but it does not mean we will not want to do a permanent fix”.
The school rebuilding programme has 100 spare slots, but Acland-Hood said the Treasury has an “agreement that they will make this a priority for the next spending review will allow us to increase the total number if we need to.
Therefore, if we have more schools that need rebuilding than we have slots, we will increase the size.”
Project directors are working with schools on the immediate mitigation and assessing what is needed in the longer term, she added.
However, Barran shot down a bizarre suggestion from Conservative MP Nick Fletcher to install netting under RAAC ceilings.
“I don’t think as a child or member of staff I’d be particularly comfortable under a net,” she said on Tuesday.
A DfE spokesperson said schools with concerns about future funding should speak to their RAAC case worker.