UK government promises to cover costs of emergency school closures


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The UK government has promised to cover all the costs associated with the emergency closure of buildings at more than 150 schools in England affected by a form of lightweight concrete that is prone to collapse.

Nick Gibb, schools minister, on Friday sought to allay concerns raised by some local authorities and teaching unions that they would be hit with bills of tens of thousands of pounds for relocating pupils and installing temporary accommodation.

“We are paying for those costs. So if in the worst-case scenario a school does have to close and we put Portakabins into the grounds, all that cost will be covered by the Department [for Education],” Gibb told BBC Radio 4.

His pledge came as local councils rushed to find alternatives for children affected by the closures, which were announced just two working days before the start of the academic year next Monday.

The government on Thursday told 104 schools across England that any site built from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) — a lightweight form of the material used between the 1950s and mid-1990s — should “no longer be open”.

The education department has said that as many as 150 English schools are at risk but has not published a list of affected schools, arguing that headteachers need time to contact parents directly.

Scotland confirmed it was also assessing the extent of Raac in its schools; data obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats this year revealed it was present in at least 37 schools. The Welsh government said it was also surveying its schools for Raac.

In England, schools with buildings made from Raac have been identified in County Durham, Bradford, Leicester, south London and Southend-on-Sea in Essex.

Tony Ball, education lead at Essex county council, said three schools in his county — one of the worst-affected areas — had no contingency plans.

Southend-on-Sea city council said it had closed the main building of Kingsdown School for special needs children on government advice.

The council added it was working to find a way of partially opening the premises, but that “vital equipment” needed by some students to enable their studies was located in the closed building.

“Instead of preparing to welcome our students back to class, we’re having to call parents to have very difficult conversations about the fact the school is closed next week,” said headteacher Louise Robinson.

Gibb said ministers had been forced to shut school buildings just days before the new term after it emerged “over the summer” that concrete previously judged by surveyors not to need urgent repair was, in fact, potentially dangerous.

The collapse of a concrete beam at one school that had shown “no external signs” of being at critical risk had precipitated the action, he added.

In June, the National Audit Office said in a report that an audit had confirmed Raac in 65 schools in England, of which 24 required “immediate action”, out of roughly 14,900 schools with buildings constructed between 1930 and 1990.

Gibb said on Friday that 52 schools had been identified as having Raac in a critical condition before Thursday’s announcement, which increased the number affected by 104.

The report by the UK public spending watchdog warned that a government programme to rebuild or refurbish 500 schools with buildings in the most urgent need was behind schedule.

Only 24 contracts had been awarded by March 2023, compared with the government’s original forecast of 83, it said, noting that the delays were in part due to the impact of inflation on building costs.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson criticised the government’s record on school maintenance, saying: “You can’t give children a first-class education in second-rate buildings.”

Teaching unions also welcomed Gibb’s pledge to pay for the costs of managing Raac-related disruption, but demanded specific commitments from the government.

“The current guidance should not be left to interpretation. No costs should come out of existing school budgets,” said Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union.

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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