School with RAAC ‘might not be repaired for four years’

Pupils currently being bussed to separate school as primary shut for months

Pupils currently being bussed to separate school as primary shut for months

17 Jul 2023, 5:00

A further 239 schools have been named by the DfE as beneficiaries of the schools rebuilding scheme

A school that closed following the discovery of “crumbly” concrete on its site months ago might not be repaired for four years, bosses have said.

Mistley Norman C of E Primary in Essex shut after the material, called reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), was found across its main building and its roof in April.

The potentially dangerous material has been dubbed “Aero-like” by structural engineers amid fears it is “now life-expired and liable to collapse”. 

Vine Schools Trust, which runs Mistley Norman, estimated its repair bill will add up to more than £1.9 million – a figure it can’t afford.

Government ‘doesn’t have cash’ to support school

In a letter seen by Schools Week, CEO Emma Wigmore told parents last month “there is no funding available from the Department for Education at the present time”.

“We have sought funding from other organisations, but they were not able to provide such a large amount. There is a vague possibility of some DfE funding being available in a couple of years’ time.

“In the unlikely event of such funding, the school building would probably not be able to be repaired and used for about four years from now.”

The trust has been renting space from an alternative school and providing transport for the six-mile-round trip over the last three months. It expects to fork out almost £23,000 on buses by the end of this term.

‘Trust didn’t warn council before RAAC closure’

But Carlo Guglielmi, a local councillor, has criticised the trust for “not covering itself in glory as it was so insular and failed to share the [information about the] problem with Essex County Council, the body responsible for school places”.

A spokesperson for the authority confirmed it was not notified of the issue until the end of April. The official added “it’s always helpful for us to be made aware of any decision to close a school building in advance so we can respond to enquiries, such as those from parents”.

In the missive, Wigmore also said parents “need to consider which school they want their child to attend from September”, having had “early indications” some families were seeking alternative places.

In correspondence earlier this month, Wigmore said pupils will be taught alongside youngsters at another school, called Two Village, from the same trust seven miles away.

DfE ‘on track’ for 600 surveys this year

She insisted the “arrangement will bring benefits to both academies”, including additional staffing and financial support. As part of the shake-up, the schools will run with a combined senior leadership team.

Government officials have been asking responsible bodies – trusts and councils – to complete questionnaires on the presence of RAAC on their sites since last March.

And in a meeting of the public accounts committee yesterday, DfE capital delivery director Jane Balderstone revealed more than 300 of the respondents have had on-site surveys. The official noted the department is “on track for 600 by the autumn”.

When asked by Rayleigh and Wickford MP Mark Francois how many have closed due to RAAC, she added “we’re not aiming to give a commentary, given the impact for those schools and we’re still understanding the data”.

RAAC ‘greatest risk to school safety’

A National Audit Office report said ministers see RAAC as the “greatest risk to safety across the school estate”. Through this, and wider work, the DfE had identified 572 schools that may contain the concrete.

The collapse of a primary’s flat roof in 2018 – at a weekend and with no casualties – is believed to have brought the potential danger of the material’s fragility into sharp focus.

In September, the Office for Government Property issued a safety briefing warning that RAAC was “life-expired and liable to collapse”. The body fears the “crumbly” concrete, used widely in flat-roofed school buildings, is “liable to collapse”.

Wigmore said this week that Mistley Norman pupils will continue to attend classes at Two Village “until there is a further update on the school building”.

Trust ‘working with authorities to secure funding’

“Mistley Norman will run alongside Two Village C of E Primary School for as long as required and we will review this termly.

“The bus that will transport Mistley Norman pupils to and from Two Village will be paid for by Mistley Norman. The trust is working with the DfE and the local authority to assess whether we can obtain any support with these costs.”

Wigmore added that “only five families have chosen to find new place for the new academic year”. While the school building is closed, Mistley Norman’s nursery will remain open until the summer.

Schools Week reported last month that six other schools – spread across Kent, the north east and Essex – were temporarily closed following discovery of RAAC on their sites.

Another in Basingstoke was partially shut a week ago, while St Francis Catholic Primary in Berkshire was ordered to close by the DfE on Wednesday as “the majority of our school building is not safe to open”.  

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