I know many parents and children may be worried about the RAAC concrete situation affecting some of our schools. Today the minister responsible for school buildings, Baroness Barran, visited Chelmsford. She went to see the work that has been carried out at Springfield Primary School. I and a number of other Essex MPs joined her for a meeting at County Hall.
Three primary schools in the Chelmsford constituency are known to have RAAC concrete. I am told that mitigation procedures have been put in place so that all three will be opening safely to all pupils next week.
RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete used in many buildings between the 1950s and 1990s. As the concrete has aged more has become known about its safety and advice from technical experts has evolved.
Some people have asked why has this come up now? Schools known to have RAAC were recently surveyed and the risks of the concrete in each setting was assessed from low to critical risk. Those with higher risk, like Springfield, were contacted last term and asked to move children from the affected area/s. However over the summer holidays, across the country, two incidents occurred where a concrete beam which had been assessed as low or medium risk has fractured. Another prior incident was also reported. These are all VERY recent incidents.
The Department for Education has acted quickly, saying that, given this new information, areas with RAAC should be vacated unless mitigation is in place - even if the concrete had been previously assessed as low or medium risk. I believe it is right that the safety of children is put first.
Each school will be different. In some cases it may only be in a storage area or small part of the school. In others it may be more wide spread. Every affected school has been allocated a one on one case worker from the Department for Education to help them make plans. Each School will need different plans for their circumstances.
I would encourage any affected school to stay in close contact with their MP as a MP hotline has been set up so we can help accelerate issues.
By way of example, last term in Springfield Primary school the concrete affected the year 5 and 6 classrooms, the preschool and an area used for SEND support. The children were rapidly offered classrooms at Boswells and Beaulieu Secondary Schools for the rest of the the term. Following a conversation with the school, I helped ensure that legal permissions to let this happen were fast tracked in less than 24 hours. Building contractors were hired for over the school holiday and pre-fab classrooms ordered in case the building work could not be completed for the new term. The head teacher, Jackie Pick, has been exceptional - as have the staff. Actually the building work is now at a stage that all the children will be back in “real” classrooms next week and the pre-fabs will not be needed and can be used to help others.
The Government, through the Department for Education has said all capital costs for any necessary work, prefabs, laptops etc will be covered.
There are another small group of schools where RAAC is suspected but not confirmed. These are all going to be surveyed rapidly to assess the individual situation.
Some people have asked what investment has been made in our local schools recently. Since 2015, the Government has funded 68 capital improvement projects in Chelmsford schools. The Government has allocated over £15 billion since 2015 for keeping schools safe and operational, including £1.8 billion committed for 2023-24.
Furthermore, four schools in Chelmsford were given grants for capital improvements this year and St John Payne is one of the 500 schools included in the national School Rebuilding Program. Whilst there is always more to do to invest in schools, I have seen first hand many of the improvements that have taken place at many of our schools.
The photo below is with Baroness Barran, and many other Essex MPs both in the room and online at our meeting on 1st September.