Concrete concerns over nine Redbridge schools

Nine schools in Redbridge fear their buildings contain potentially unsafe concrete.

According to Redbridge Council, the nine unidentified schools have indicated that they may have buildings made with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, known as RAAC.

However, council leader Jas Athwal said the buildings have only been assessed by site managers who do not have the “expertise” to confirm RAAC by sight.

Although all schools in the borough have opened for the start of term, The Palmer Catholic Academy has had to move some classrooms and close its sports hall while work is carried out on confirmed RAAC.

The nine other unnamed schools that suspect they have RAAC have been forced to put alternative arrangements in place.

Cllr Athwal has called on the government to fund professional surveys as local authorities such as Redbridge are in “funding crises” after more than ten years of austerity.

He said: “Our council has stepped up support for local schools, and we are doing all we can to guide them through this incredibly challenging period.

“However, this crisis necessitates an immediate and proportionate government response, which so far has been lacking.

“Schools cannot be expected to conduct visual inspections of their sites and report accurate assessments to the Department for Education; this process is unreliable by its very nature – concrete can be painted over or otherwise disguised – and school staff do not, and should not be expected to, have the expertise to determine what is RAAC purely by sight.

“The government must announce funding for professional surveys conducted at schools as soon as possible.”

Redbridge owns and oversees 57 primary and secondary schools in the borough, known as “maintained schools”.

It has warned that without government funding for professional surveys, there will be “delays” to confirming whether RAAC is in the nine schools.

RAAC is a less durable alternative to concrete that was used between the 1950s and 1990s – mostly in flat roofing, but also in floors and walls.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, it is now beyond its lifespan and has the potential to “collapse with little or no notice”.

Glen Kelly regional officer for the National Education Union said the news of nine Redbridge schools facing possible RAAC issues comes as a “complete shock”.

He added: “The NEU will work with schools to ensure the safety and well-being of all its members and won’t hesitate to act if we feel any worker or child is put at risk.

“Let’s be clear, the decision to not refurbish and rebuild schools was a political decision taken by this government in a deliberate move to refuse to provide the level of funding needed.

“All schools and council must now ensure that all necessary works are carried out and schools are fully funded to ensure they can provide a safe place for children and their workers”

Only one school in Redbridge, The Palmer Catholic Academy, was on the Department for Education’s list of more than 100 establishments affected by RAAC released this week.

The school’s headteacher Paul Downey told parents parts of two buildings have been taken out of use until “appropriate mitigations” are put in place.

He added: “We have already made great progress with mitigating measures and now need to do some further mitigating work in light of the new advice.

“We will be open as planned to all our students. All lessons will still take place and your child’s education will not be affected.

“Most importantly we are opening in the safest way possible and no student will be in any area with RAAC until the necessary mitigations are in place.”

Parts of the school that have moved include IT and art classrooms, the staff room, some offices, the canteen and some toilets.

Activities usually held in the school’s sports hall and dance studio will be moved outside or to “off-site facilities” until further notice.

A Department for Education spokesperson said if a school’s responsible body, such as the council or multi-academy trust, commissions a survey they can ask the DfE for funding.

They added: “All schools where RAAC is confirmed will be provided with funding for all mitigation works that are capital funded, such as propping and temporary accommodation.

“Where schools, colleges and maintained nursery schools need additional help with revenue costs, like transport to other locations or temporarily renting a local hall or office, we are actively engaging with every school affected to put appropriate support in place.
“We expect all reasonable requests will be approved.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter