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Ministers ‘dangerously complacent’ on RAAC safety in schools, says whistleblower

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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A senior civil service whistleblower has come forward to speak about how ‘dangerously complacent’ government ministers and their advisors were about the risks of aerated concrete in school buildings.

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), present in schools across the UK has caused closure due to the risk of sudden collapse. RAAC is a lightweight, bubbly form of concrete, found in roofs, walls and floors. It was used in many schools built between the 1950s to 1990s. It looks like standard concrete, but is weaker and less durable than the traditional reinforced material.

Last Thursday, days before the new school term was due to start, the government suddenly ordered more than 100 schools in England to close buildings at risk of collapse. The move has caused considerable disruption, particularly for schools having to move to temporary accommodation whilst surveyors assess the safety of their buildings.

The whistleblower, who worked in then-education secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s office, reported warnings of this risk crossing his desk as far back as early 2022. He said ministers and special advisers at the time were “trying to get away with spending as little as they could” and hoping to “make do” rather than treating the problem with the urgency it required.

These warnings echo leaked emails from the Department for Education, which emerged last year. Officials had urged Zahawi’s office to increase the number of school rebuilding projects from 50 a year to more than 300, citing that many school buildings in England were now in such disrepair they were a “risk to life”.

“It just wasn’t a priority for the Spads [special advisers] or politicians,” the whistleblower said. “There is a good case for being cautious and prudent but the general environment of not funding things and trying to make do – that is where we are after 13 years.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“Professional advice from technical experts on RAAC has evolved over time and the issue of managing its risks - across all sectors - has spanned successive governments since 1994.

“The Department has been supporting those responsible for the maintenance of schools, such as Local Authorities and Multi-Academy Trusts to identify and mitigate against the safety risks posed by RAAC panels since 2018.

“In 2022, the Department went even further, and launched a questionnaire and survey programme, to ensure we had a good understanding of the prevalence of RAAC and that appropriate mitigations were in place. This is the most proactive approach to RAAC in schools of any Government in the world or indeed the UK.”

Interviewed on the subject, Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary said:

“Labour warned time and again about the risks posed by the crumbling schools estate under the Conservatives but were met with complacency, obstinacy and inaction.

“Ministers need to come clean about the number of schools affected, what they knew, and when they knew, about the risks posed by Raac so that parents can be reassured their children are safe at school.”

For answers to questions on RAAC, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like What can I do if my business is affected by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete?

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