Parents' fears schools concrete crisis may not be fixed for MONTHS

Parents’ fears that schools concrete crisis may not be fixed for MONTHS – as dangerous RAAC scandal sparks panic with classrooms shut and teachers forced to work on the pavement at start of term today

  • Gillian Keegan was forced to apologise after a foul-mouthed rant over the crisis 
  • Is your school closed? When did you find out? Email [email protected]

The school concrete crisis may not be fixed until winter, parents fear – as classrooms were shut and teachers were forced to work on the pavement at the start of term today. 

Meanwhile students were seen eating outside and using portable toilets as school facilities were closed off. 

104 schools are closed or partially closed due to the use of aerated concrete, with one headteacher predicting disruption for children until 2025. 

St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive School in Eltham, south east London, was forced to put its student toilets out of action as well as the school hall, gym, and drama studio.

The school is also considering putting a marquee up for pupils to have packed lunch meals, as the canteen has been closed due to the presence of the dangerous concrete. 

Staff outside  St Anne’s Catholic Primary School in Harlow Hill, Gateshead, using their laptops on the street because they are banned from entering

Students were seen eating outside and using portable toilets as school facilities were closed off

St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive School in Eltham, south east London , was forced to put its student toilets out of action as well as the school hall, gym, and drama studio

104 schools are closed or partially closed due to the use of aerated concrete, with one headteacher predicting disruption for children until 2025

One father, whose 11-year-old daughter started in year 7 at the school today, said his daughter has been left terrified that the building will collapse.

Oluwatosin Banjo, 52, said: ‘She was already nervous about it and now she’s frightened that the building will collapse.

‘She kept asking if it was all going to break up. I’ve had to reassure her it won’t.’

The father-of-two, who also has a daughter in year 11 at the school, said the headteacher has been trying to get funding to update the premises for years but has been ‘ignored’.

He added: ‘The headteacher has been saying for years that the building is getting old, but he’s just been ignored and nobody has listened to them.

‘Some of the parents here actually attended the school themselves and it’s the same building – it hasn’t been updated, which isn’t fair on the pupils at all.

‘Even the windows are still single-glazed. My eldest daughter is in year 11 and tells me they get so cold in winter that they have to sit with their coats on. It’s not right at all.’

The security officer, from Charlton, south east London, described the concrete crisis as ‘inconvenient’.

Heather Mullarkey with daughter Daphne, and Khraj Sandhu with children Viktoria and Jan, who attend Crossflats Primary School near Keighley. It is one of the schools affected by the issue with RAAC concrete

Parents outside St Martin’s in the Field Girls’ School in London, where pupils from Corpus Christi Catholic School, Brixton about a mile away are relocated after it was affected with sub standard reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac)

Scaffolding holding up the ceiling of a Leicester primary school containing RAAC concrete

Zoe Jenkins’ children are among the thousands back doing home learning

He said: ‘I was only told about the RAAC problem about two days ago through the letter from the headteacher.

‘I was planning to give my daughter a school meal everyday. Now she has to have a packed lunch, which is not convenient at all.

‘It’s not the school’s fault though, I don’t think the Government is doing enough to help, but then again it’s the Conservatives, so they won’t do anything.’

Oluwatosin called on Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to issue a ‘proper apology’ after she was caught swearing on camera while expressing frustration about the crisis in schools – claiming that ‘everyone else has sat on their arse’ while she tried to fix the problem.

He said: ‘The Education Secretary swearing on camera was embarrassing. It isn’t befitting of the institution.

‘I won’t accept her apology, it was weak. She needs to apologise properly.

‘She’s not fit to be an Education Secretary.’

Another father, whose 11-year-old son started at St Thomas More today, expressed concern that his son and daughter will be left sitting outside to eat their lunches in winter if the RAAC is not replaced quickly.

Tom, 40, who did not wish to give his surname, said: ‘I had a feeling that this school would be affected when I saw it on the news, because it’s an old building.

‘But the timing has taken everyone by surprise. I definitely think it could’ve been managed better.

‘It’s caused some discomfort for the children. Not everyone feels comfortable with using portable toilets. I’m a bit concerned about how they will be maintained – they’re not the most hygienic.

‘I just really hope they can quickly assess whether the whole building is badly affected and sort it out.

‘I’m most concerned that they won’t have fixed it before winter.

‘The government hasn’t given any kind of timeframe to get it fixed.

‘I reckon they will struggle to get it sorted before the end of the academic year. It’s not going to be an easy fix – you can’t just pull it down and put more concrete in.

‘Eating outside and using outdoor toilets in the cold weather is going to be unpleasant.’

The hospitality worker, from Eltham, who also has an older daughter at St Thomas More, believes the government have ‘mismanaged’ the situation.

He added: ‘I can’t understand is how it was fine for so many years and just a week ago they found out it was suddenly dangerous.

‘How did nobody realise until this summer that it wouldn’t last and might collapse?

‘They should’ve seen it was coming. They have the building documents – they could’ve foreseen it. It’s been mismanaged and it’s disappointing.

‘I think RAAC was a trendy and inexpensive solution at the time and it was a mistake to use it.

Problems at St Thomas More Catholic School in Eltham means that portaloos are needed for students returning this week

‘But the situation is still unfolding – there might be other buildings we don’t know about with this concrete.

‘We need a lot of luck. It’s going to be a difficult journey.’

One mother, whose daughter had her first day in year 7 at the school today, claims some schools knew there was RAAC present in their buildings back in June.

The woman, who asked not to be named, works in the catering department of another local school.

She said: ‘Some schools have known about this since June but they didn’t tell parents until a few days ago.

‘Now all the kids are back for their first day, it’s chaos.

‘The school I work in hasn’t told us anything about the RAAC crisis, so I’m assuming it’s fine, but nobody has really been kept in the loop.’

Another mother, whose child had their first day in year 7 today, said she was only told about the concrete crisis on Thursday.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said: ‘We only got told about it on Thursday last week.

‘My child was really excited to start school, but now they’ve got to use portable loos as toilets and eat in marquees.

READ MORE: Moment Gillian Keegan LAUGHS as she is confronted with video of her rant about doing a ‘f***ing good job’ 

‘I think the way the Government has handled it is a bit of a mess.’

Year 7 pupils arrived for their first day at secondary school today, with the rest of the pupils due in on Wednesday.

A letter to parents from headteacher Stuart Sharp on Friday (September 1) read: ‘St Thomas More was inspected during the Summer term and was found to have RAAC in the school hall. At the time we were advised that this was not an issue and the school could operate as normal with annual visits by structural engineers.

‘However, now that the advice has changed, schools will not be able to use any areas that have RAAC in them, or any rooms below areas affected by RAAC. For St Thomas More that includes, the Hall, Gym, Canteen, drama studio, Alps and most importantly the boys’ and girls’ toilets.

‘We therefore will be acquiring mobile toilet blocks to be used by the students until a solution for the RAAC is found. This is now our priority, but as we were only informed in a meeting this morning of the implications of the RAAC, we are unsure of the timescale that this will involve.

‘We are also looking to hire a marquee as a space for the students to eat and prepare food. It may be necessary for students to bring packed lunch for a short period of time.’

In an update on Monday (September 4), Mr Sharp said the school is currently trying to source alternative catering facilities.

He asked parents to send their children to school with a packed lunch and a refillable water bottle.

Children in receipt of free school meals will have a packed lunch provided to them.

Cleeve Park Secondary School in Sidcup, south east London has also been forced to partially close parts of its building – including four classrooms, some admin offices, and the gym, as a result of the presence of RAAC.

Parents and grandparents waiting outside the mixed secondary said the school had handled the situation well.

Christina Hawkins, 72, does the school run for her 12 and 14-year-old grandchildren who attend Cleeve Park.

She said: ‘My daughter phoned me – she had got a message from the school said that four classrooms and a gym that was in another building that were affected by the concrete.

‘But all the children are in school. I think the school has handled it quite well. They’ve dealt with it the very best they can. It’s something that wasn’t expected.

‘It’s always very difficult but I think perhaps the Government didn’t take it quite as seriously as they should have.

‘But these things were used when they were no other materials. These were the tools of the trade.

‘I do think that there should be more signs that the Government and Gillian Keegan are actually doing something.

‘I’m not quite sure what they are doing at the moment but it’s early days. It’s a very very difficult situation with children involved – especially after Covid.

‘The disruption at Cleeve Park has been minimised but I am sure elsewhere it’s been a lot worse. The concrete is going to cause disruptive for so many other people as well.’

Parent Emma King only found out about the RAAC crisis through the news.

She added: ‘I only found out about the concrete on the news recently to be honest.

‘It’s not been communicated at all to be honest. Only what I have seen on the news.

‘I think the government could have helped by giving us more clear information.’

Another mother, who did not want to be named, said: I think they’ve made the best of a bad situation – they’ve sectioned off the school. It didn’t need to shut or anything.

The teacher have just got to deal with it. We will deal with disruption to my child’s education if and when it comes to that. It is what it is.’

The Orchard Theatre in Dartford, Kent has been forced to suspend performances with immediate effect after RAAC was discovered in the building.

Despite being told by specialist consultants in a routine survey that the defects in the panels of the theatre’s roof were ‘not significant’, the council began to replace them in line with advice.

But the most recent industry guidance has resulted in a recommendation to shut the premises until a solution is identified.

Leader of the Council, Jeremy Kite, said: ‘It’s not the news that anyone wants to hear but there is nothing more important than the safety of the audiences, staff, artists, volunteers and everyone at the venue.

‘This problem was embedded in the building at the time of its construction in 1983 and it is one of thousands of buildings built using this construction method.

‘Although any closure is a blow, we are in the fortunate position to have the resources and determination to put the building right and reopen it for the benefit of residents.

‘Both Dartford Borough Council and Trafalgar Theatres are committed to making the necessary adaptations required as soon as possible to allow performances to recommence.

‘We, and our partners at Trafalgar Theatres, know this will cause inconvenience and disappointment, but the safety of our customers and staff is our number one priority.’

Helen Enright, COO of Trafalgar Entertainment & CEO Trafalgar Theatres, added: ‘Performances are initially suspended until the end of September to allow further investigations to take place.

‘Once the time frames become clearer we will update customers as to the status of the future programme and would like to reassure customers that their money is safe.

‘We will be contacting existing ticket holders to reschedule performances or to reimburse them. There is no need for customers to contact the theatre and rest assured that we will be in touch.

‘Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding as we work through the different considerations.’

One parent of a pupil at St Benet’s Catholic Primary in Ouston, County Durham, has had to delay starting a new job as childcare worries deepen amid the crisis.

Wishing to remain anonymous, the mother, whose child is due to start Year Six, said: ‘We’re not sure when the school will open again and it’s the not knowing which is the worry.

‘We don’t know if it’s going to be a few days or even longer. Apparently the school is working with the trust today to come up with an update. I’m getting bothered about it because my daughter is going into quite an important year group. It’s the year she does the SATS.

‘We’re just all up in the air at the moment and home schooling is not ideal. We tried it in Covid and it doesn’t work. I was supposed to be starting my new job but that’s on hold now.’ 

Despite the criticism, Schools Minister Nick Gibb today insisted that the Government’s response to the crumbling concrete crisis has been ‘world-leading’.

There is a scramble for portable cabins, portable loos and tents because classrooms and toilets are closed for safety reasons. Thousands of students have been asked to bring packed lunch for the foreseeable because of kitchens are shut with marquees planned as temporary canteens.

At Crossflatts Primary in Bingley, West Yorkshire, school staff have divided the main hall into three classes for years four, five and six as their classrooms have been affected by the issue. 

Heather Mullarkey, 36, at teacher herself, has a daughter in year four and her youngest daughter was starting her first day today. She said that the school is planning a ‘cabin village’ of temporary classrooms.

‘My daughter was in yesterday and I’m a teacher, so when they said they were dividing the main hall into classes, I thought ‘god help them with 80 eight-to-11-year-olds in the hall’, she told MailOnline, adding: ‘But they sent us picture in the hall and how they’ve set it up, they’re like proper classrooms, they’ve done an amazing job of it’.

Staff at a school affected by the country’s concrete crisis were seen crouching on the pavement outside the gates with their laptops this morning.

One worker at St Anne’s Catholic Primary in Gateshead confirmed the group were trying to get as close to the building as possible to access the wi-fi after being banned from the grounds.

St Anne’s was meant to reopen today but remained shut. However, there were no sign of any maintenance work or inspections being carried out.

Gemma Chapman’s four-year-old daughter Violet was meant to start reception this morning.

Parents have been left furious over the farce, questioning why it couldn’t have been addressed during the holidays

Gemma, 39, said: ‘We all found out about the closures on Friday when the school sent us e-mails and messages. I think a lot of parents are questioning how long the issue has been known about.’

Gemma added: ‘It’s typical that this has happened right at the end of the holidays’.

Furious parents blasted ministers today over their handling of the schools concrete crisis, with pupils left wondering if they are heading back to lockdown learning for months because their classrooms are crumbling.

There is turmoil all over the country after more than a hundred schools in England were told they could not fully open because of safety fears on the eve of the start of the autumn term. 

The last-minute scramble has left thousands of families ‘stressed to bits’, as they took to social media to share their frustration over the farce and why it wasn’t addressed over the holidays.

One mother, posting an image of a freshly-cleaned blazer, shirt and tie, wrote: ‘The uniform will remain hanging there; my daughter’s school is closed because #RAAC [Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete].

‘She was looking forward to starting her secondary school today. Now sitting anxiously home; yet another education disruption. Why was this problem not fixed before the summer?’

St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive School in Eltham, south east London, has been forced to put its girls’ and boys’ toilets out of action as well as the school hall, gym, and drama studio.

 The school is also considering putting a marquee up for youngsters to have packed lunch meals, as the canteen has been closed.

One mother, whose child had their first day in year 7 today said she was only told about the concrete crisis on Thursday.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said: ‘We only got told about it on Thursday last week.

‘My child was really excited to start school, but now they’ve got to use portable loos as toilets and eat in marquees.

‘I think the way the Government has handled it is a bit of a mess.’

Altrincham College, an academy-run school in Trafford has also been confirmed as having RAAC concrete. More than 100 schools are closed or partially closed, in a disaster for children

Construction workers appeared to be on scaffolding dismantling bricks from a chimney at Sale Grammar School today as the concrete crisis gripped schools

Buckhurst Hill Community Primary School in Essex said it had identified that aerated concrete was present in its central building and that four classes will need to be taught at a nearby school while this is addressed.

READ MORE: No10 sends Education Secretary Gillian Keegan out to apologise for hot mic rant where she accused everyone of ‘sitting on their a***’

It said reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) was in the roof, affecting eight of 14 classrooms, the dining hall, part of the kitchen, some children’s toilets, administrative offices and a staff room.

Of the eight affected classes, alternative space has been found at the school for half, while the remaining four will be taught from a nearby school in the same trust whose buildings are unaffected by Raac.

The school said it would rely on packed lunches to meet the needs of children on free school meals, with arrangements in place from Monday.

‘Staff have worked around the clock to get pupils back to school and to these new temporary arrangements as soon as possible,’ the school said in a statement.

‘We are fortunate to be part of a very positive and collaborative school community – parents, staff and the wider community have been completely supportive, enabling us to focus on the safety and education of our pupils. As you will appreciate, this has been a challenging period.’

Year 7 pupils arrived for their first day at secondary school today, with the rest of the pupils due in on Wednesday.

It comes as Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is said to be fighting for survival today after claiming she is doing ‘a f***ing good job’ while others had ‘sat on their a***s’ in an embarrassing ‘hot mic’ incident yesterday. 

Last week she was holidaying in Spain when headteachers had to scramble to find temporary classrooms or carry out last minute repairs after the Department for Education told them last Thursday that aerated concrete panels could crumble and collapse.

In some schools up to half of buildings contained Raac concrete, meaning that classrooms, toilets, staff rooms and corridors have had to be sealed off. This has led to a return to online learning for thousands of children, echoing the dark days of the pandemic that was so damaging to the education of millions of children.

Sarah Ingham, 46, from Hebburn, South Tyneside, is recovering from breast cancer and may now have to cancel crucial hospital appointments after school start was delayed for her daughter Lucy.

She said: ‘I am sitting here stressed to bits. We all know school is closed tomorrow [Wednesday] and a crystal ball might tell me after that. 

‘I can feel my anxiety rising. Lucy is missing her friends and just wants to be back. I am stressed with the not knowing. I am so worried that if Lucy isn’t back in face-to-face education soon, my hospital appointments may have to be cancelled and moved, which is going to have a knock-on effect on my health.’

Jill Simpson, 51, received an email on Friday advising her that St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham would not be reopening as planned and teaching would be done online for the foreseeable future. Ms Simpson, whose child is starting Year 10, said: ‘My daughter’s grades are slipping due to loss of school and teachers’ strikes and Covid, so we now have to get a private tutor for maths for her to start with to bump her grades back up’.

Tori Hamblin, from Hadleigh, Suffolk, fears she may have to quit her job as a HR manager in the care industry if online learning returns for as long as feared.

Her eight-year-old Phoebe is now not in school this week but her mother fears it could be months.

She told The Times:  ‘As a parent I feel really sad. My daughter’s last two school years at primary were affected by Covid then we had teachers’ strikes, and now this. I am worried. Her education could really suffer from this.

‘I do have to be in the office sometimes. So it’s not ideal — I’d be at risk of losing my job. I wouldn’t have a choice. It’s just a massive headache’.

Tens of thousands of children are heading back to classrooms in England this week despite hundreds of schools still having no idea whether they will be teaching in unsafe buildings containing RAAC – a lightweight form of concrete used between the 1950s and 1990s. Some 1,500 schools have not returned surveys asking whether they have concerns about the concrete on their estates. 

Exasperated Tories have branded Gillian Keegan as a ‘damning indictment’ of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet – after she said she’s doing ‘a f***ing good job’.  

The Education Secretary was caught out by the ‘hot mic’ incident yesterday as she said others had ‘sat on their a***’ after an interview with ITV news – as Rishi Sunak was told to get a grip over the school concrete crisis. 

It has emerged that Keegan was on holiday in Spain – where she reportedly owns properties in Madrid and Marbella – last week while the crisis unfolded. 

Aides said that she was ‘working from home’ between August 25 and 31, when it was announced more than 100 schools would be closed, The Telegraph reported. 

Exasperated Tories have branded Gillian Keegan as a ‘damning indictment’ of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet – after she said she’s doing ‘a f***ing good job’

MPs have now condemned both Keegan and the Prime Minister himself for failing to get a grip on the crisis.  

One Tory MP told the newspaper: ‘The way she’s conducted herself – in particular in that ITV interview – shows she is selfish and shameless and not fit to stay in office. 

‘It’s a damning indictment of Rishi Sunak and the people he has appointed to his Cabinet.’

Another added that they believed Ms Keegan had been ‘over-promoted’, while one more said she was on her last chance to keep her position in government. 

The concrete crisis has meant scores of pupils began the school year by learning online in an echo of the huge disruption caused by the pandemic.

Teachers spent the weekend scrambling to erect tented classrooms and acquiring festival-style toilets in a bid to keep classrooms open. The closures left parents racing to find emergency childcare as they juggled remote learning with full-time work.

However, it has come to light that initial concerns were raised early last month, weeks before the last-minute panic before schools returned.  

Ms Keegan came under fire for failing to appear on the airwaves over the weekend to address the issue, and instead released a bizarre video with a dance music soundtrack. 

In a round of broadcast interviews yesterday, she admitted hundreds of schools could be affected by crumbling reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

But then in an extraordinary outburst, filmed as a TV camera repositioned for extra shots, she said: ‘Does anyone ever say, you know what, you’ve done a f****** good job because everyone else has sat on their a**e and done nothing? No signs of that, no?’

She said ITV journalist Daniel Hewitt, who conducted the interview, had been ‘pressing me quite hard’ and claimed he was ‘making out it was all my fault’.

In her apology, the Education Secretary refused to say who she believed had ‘sat on their a**e’. She added: ‘It was an off-the-cuff remark after the news interview had finished, or apparently after it had finished.

‘I would like to apologise for my choice language.’

In other developments on a chaotic day in Westminster:

  • Mr Sunak insisted that 95 per cent of England’s schools were unaffected – leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be hit by the crisis;
  • Labour’s Keir Starmer said ministers appeared to be trying to ‘pass the buck’ for the closures and said the situation was descending into farce;
  • Union leaders wrote to Mrs Keegan demanding urgent answers on the RAAC ’emergency’ – including clarity over the funding and support for schools;
  • The Labour-run Welsh Government said two schools on Anglesey that had been due to open for the autumn term today would be closed temporarily;
  • The Scottish Government confirmed that RAAC had been discovered in 35 schools with local authorities in the process of checking other buildings;
  • The Ministry of Justice is inspecting buildings built in the 1990s for RAAC after Harrow Crown Court was found to contain the material;
  • The PM is facing yet another by-election after former Tory chief whip Chris Pincher lost an appeal against a lengthy Commons suspension over groping allegations.

Mr Sunak was dragged into the concrete crisis yesterday after a former top civil servant claimed the PM had failed to fully fund a programme to rebuild schools.

Jonathan Slater, ex-permanent secretary at the Department for Education, blamed the Prime Minister for halving the rebuilding budget while he was chancellor in 2021.

Mr Sunak insisted that 95 per cent of England’s schools were unaffected – leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be hit by the crisis;

Mr Sunak rubbished the claim, insisting: ‘Actually one of the first things I did as chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new ten-year school rebuilding programme for 500 schools. Now that equates to about 50 schools a year that will be refurbished or rebuilt. If you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done.’

The row follows a lacklustre summer which has riled many Tory MPs who fear the PM is not doing enough to win the next election.

They have grown frustrated by stubbornly poor poll ratings and misfiring campaigning events such as ‘small boats week’ – a plan to hail progress in tackling Channel crossings that soon unravelled.

A senior backbencher said: ‘The Government is spending all its time addressing problems and cock-ups from the past – that’s all the media we’re getting. It’s time to get on to the front foot and have a positive message, otherwise the floating voter will start firming up for Labour.’

Another ex-minister said that Mr Sunak was ‘showing he can’t cope and is not up to the job sadly’.

No 10 said Mr Sunak yesterday held a cross-government meeting with key departments affected by the concrete crisis – including education, health and justice. He is said to have made clear that parents should be given clarity and reassurance.

Ministers have also promised that a list of schools confirmed to have RAAC in their buildings will be published this week. The material was used for many public buildings between the 1950s and the mid-1990s and is prone to failure.

The collapse of Singlewell primary school in Gravesend, Kent, in 2018 sparked concerns over the concrete, which was dubbed ‘Aero-like’ by structural engineers.

But it was the collapse of a beam at a school once deemed to be safe during the summer that spurred action.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The Education Secretary took the cautious and proactive decision to change guidance on Raac and this week has chaired daily operational calls with ministers and senior officials in the department and virtually.’

Source: Read Full Article