Schools shut after extra inspections find hidden RAAC

Cases reignite concerns more primaries and secondaries will be at risk of collapse

Cases reignite concerns more primaries and secondaries will be at risk of collapse

17 Nov 2023, 5:00

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15 schools have been added to the DfE's list of schools with confirmed RAAC

Three schools given clean bills of health following RAAC inspections have now been told they have the crumbly concrete.

The cases have reignited concerns more primaries and secondaries will be at risk of collapse. Early inspections only required visual checks.

Stockport Council closed two schools in the past three weeks after commissioning an external expert to conduct in-depth surveys of its estate “as an additional precaution”.

The local authority hired the engineers after the Department for Education ramped up its RAAC policy towards the end of the summer, despite having already carried out inspections itself.

In the wake of the closures, Cheadle Hulme High, an academy also in Stockport, called in experts who found a block of the material hidden under several layers of paint.

When asked if more schools could have undetected RAAC, Matt Byatt, the president of the Institution of Structural Surveyors, said: “There’s probably a more than even chance. It’s all about what [responsible bodies] instructed someone to look at.”

Byatt stressed it was “quite probable and possible” that anything covered up would not be seen during a visual check.

The DfE escalated its RAAC policy by ordering 104 schools to partially of fully close days before the start of the new academic year. This came after three collapses “without warning” in buildings considered non-critical.

Council ordered further checks

Stockport Council stressed it had already undertaken RAAC checks “in line with DfE guidance and requests since 2019”.

But following the government announcement at the end of August, it asked engineers to “carry out visual and intrusive inspections where required of all school buildings at risk of containing” the material.

The authority said this was done “as an additional precaution”.

St Thomas’ C of E Primary closed for two days at the end of October following a visit from surveyors. Pupils in years 1 to 6 have since been moved to nearby Woodford Primary School.

Youngsters in nursery and reception are learning “in the one area” of St Thomas’ “which does not have RAAC in the ceiling”.

Bramhall High shut last Friday. It reopened to years 10 and 11, as well as to vulnerable pupils on Tuesday, while the rest of the school learned remotely for the rest of the week.

From Monday one additional year group a day will be brought in on a rotation. A council spokesperson said the school intended “to increase this capacity over the next few weeks”.

Cheadle Hulme subsequently conducted further checks of its site on Monday. Staff were concerned about a small part of a ceiling in a space not used for teaching.

RAAC had been painted-over

Surveyors brought in the next day concluded RAAC was only in the “10 x 6m” area, according to an academy spokesperson.

“Essentially, over many years, a significant number of layers of paint had been applied so that it looked smooth and solid.

“Given that the rest of the school was found to be RAAC-free, the school opened the following day for all year groups.”

In March 2022, responsible bodies of state-funded schools were invited to complete a survey to give ministers a clearer picture on the prevalence of RAAC.

Guidance published later that year said “initial assessments” – which included a visual inspection – could be “undertaken by someone who has responsibility for building or estate management as well as the day-to-day running of the site”.

The DfE advised that once the concrete was “suspected or identified, a specialist structural engineering consultant should be appointed”.

The guidance was updated in September to say experts should be hired if the material was suspected or if estates managers were “unsure”.

Latest government figures, published last month, confirmed the presence of RAAC at 214 schools.

A Stockport Council spokesperson said work was taking place so children could “return as soon as it is safe to do so”.

The authority is also continuing “to carry out inspections across the borough so we can be assured about the condition of the roof material”.

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  1. Robert Hardy

    There does seem to be a rising panic about buildings containing structures built with RAAC that doesn’t always seem to be warranted, if the roof of this space is of the (small) dimensions reported and isn’t exhibiting signs of failure or water penetration then problem could be easily fixed at modest cost by supporting the roof from below and replacing it’s weatherproofing before that fails. RAAC is not tolerant of neglect, but panicking where serious concern is not warranted diverts resources away from instances where its use is presenting substantial risk.