By Charlie Kimber
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Take action to win safety at schools that could collapse

The release of asbestos is an extra threat
Issue 2871
A roof collapsed in on a classroom

Singlewell Primary School in Gravesend, Kent, where the roof collapsed in 2018

In crumbling Tory Britain tens of thousands of children are being taught in schools liable to collapse without warning. The Department for Education (DfE) has said 156 schools have buildings with the RAAC type of concrete which is now openly identified as dangerous.

But thousands that have not yet been assessed could also have used the material.

And there are now fears that as structures fall apart they could release deadly asbestos, adding to the threat. 

Trade union leaders should be telling teachers and other staff to refuse to work until there is certainty that schools are safe. And students should refuse to be herded into potentially unsafe schools.

Anne, a parent at one of the schools affected on the outskirts of London, told Socialist Worker, “I am frightened about the school’s safety. A group of us parents are talking about what we can do. I don’t think it should reopen until we know it’s safe.”

Of the 156 schools on the government list, the DfE said 52 were at risk of sudden collapse and action had to be taken immediately to make them safe.

The other 104 are currently scrambling to put safety measures in place to stay open. These range from closing down facilities such as computer rooms, bringing in temporary teaching spaces such as shipping containers, or closing the school temporarily and forcing students onto remote learning.

The Tories have not announced new money to fund repairs in England. A senior civil service whistleblower told the Observer newspaper that Tory ministers and their political advisers were “dangerously complacent” about buildings with RAAC. He said they were more concerned with saving money than improving safety.

The source, who worked in the private office of Nadhim Zahawi, the then education secretary, saw regular alerts crossing his desk. He said ministers and special advisers were “trying to get away with spending as little as they could” 

RAAC and asbestos are often found in the same buildings as both materials were used extensively in the 1960s and after.

If asbestos is disturbed, as in a building collapse, it could release fibres that, if inhaled, can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

It emerged in July that thousands of children were still being taught in schools that contained asbestos, despite a ban being imposed on the material by 1999.

Around 10,000 teachers, pupils and staff are estimated to have died from asbestos exposure at school in the last four decades.

Governments have been warned of the risks posed by RAAC since the 1990s. But it has taken until now for a general alert to go out. The Health and Safety Executive has declared RAAC “life expired”.

Squeezing cash for schools, putting holding down costs before safety, and letting private firms maintain schools have led to this. 

There are also 24 hospital sites in England where the weaker concrete is present. Separately, seven NHS sites managed by NHS Property Services—which runs buildings including some care centres, GP surgeries and hospitals—have RAAC.

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) is a lightweight—and cheap— building material that was predominantly used in roofs between the 1960s and the 1980s.

RAAC is easy to mould into panels.  A grid of steel bars is set into the panels to stop them bending or snapping.

But the tiny holes in the material allow water in, which corrodes the steel. This can be hard to spot because it does not display obvious cracks, unlike normal concrete.

In 2018 the roof of a primary school in Kent made from RAAC collapsed with no warning. Fortunately, it occurred at a weekend when the building was empty.

The NEU union says the Tories have slashed the school building budget. If it had been held at the level set in 2010 and kept up with rising prices, it would have averaged about £2.7 billion more each year. That’s a total of almost £35 billion over the 13-year period.

Daniel Kebede, NEU general secretary, said, “This situation will cause massive disruption to the education of thousands of children. The blame of course lies firmly with this government whose perpetual lack of investment in school buildings has left our school estate in such a dire state of disrepair. 

“For months the NEU has been pressing the Government to publish a full list of schools with buildings at risk of collapse, but this has not happened.”

A DfE document in December 2022 said RAAC panels “increase the risk of structural failure, which can be gradual or sudden with no warning” and that “sudden failure of RAAC panels in roofs, eaves, floors, walls and cladding systems would be dangerous and the consequences serious”.

The government’s scandalous lack of real action has to be met with resistance from students, parents and unions.

Which schools are affected?

The government has not issued a list of the 156 schools known to have buildings using RAAC. But there are reports of closures, emergency repairs and delays to the new term at these schools: 

  • Abbey Lane Primary School, Sheffield
  • Arthur Bugler Primary School, Standford-le-Hope, Thurrock 
  • The Appleton School, Essex 
  • The Billericay School, Billericay, Essex 
  • Buckhurst Hill Community Primary School, Essex 
  • Canon Slade School, Bolton, Greater 
  • Carmel College and Sixth Form, Darlington, County Durham 
  • Clacton County High School, Clacton, 
  • Claydon High School, Ipswich, 
  • Cleeve Park School, Sidcup
  • Cockermouth School, Cockermouth, Cumbria
  • The Coopers’ Company and Coburn School, Essex 
  • Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School, Brixton, London 
  • Cranbourne College, Basingstoke, Hampshire 
  • Crossflatts Primary School, Bradford, West Yorkshire 
  • Donnington Wood Infants School, Donnington, Telford, Shropshire 
  • East Bergholt High School, Colchester, Essex 
  • Eldwick Primary School, Bradford
  • The Ellen Wilkinson School, London
  • Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge, Suffolk 
  • Fulwood Secondary, Preston, Lancashire 
  • Ferryhill School, a secondary in County Durham 
  • The Gilberd School, Colchester, Essex 
  • Greenway Junior School, Horsham 
  • Hadleigh High School, Hadleigh, Suffolk
  • Hatfield Peverel Junior School, Chelmsford, Essex 
  • Hockley Primary School, Hockley, Essex 
  • Holy Trinity Catholic Academy, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire 
  • Honywood School, Colchester, Essex 
  • Jerounds Primary School in Harlow, Essex 
  • Katherines Primary Academy, Harlow, Essex
  • Kingsdown School, Southend-on-Sea
  • Mayflower Primary School, Leicester, Leicestershire 
  • Myton School, Warwick, Warwickshire 
  • Northampton International 
  • Our Lady’s Catholic High School, Preston, Lancashire 
  • Outwoods Primary School, Atherstone, North Warwickshire 
  • Parks Primary, Leicester, Leicestershire 
  • Pershore High School, Worcestershire 
  • Ramsey Academy, Halstead, Essex
  • Ravens Academy, Clacton-On-Sea, Essex
  • Scalby School, Scarborough 
  • St Bartholomew’s Catholic Primary School, Kent 
  • St Bede’s Catholic School and Byron Sixth Form College, County Durham 
  • St Clere’s School, Stanford-le-Hope, Essex 
  • St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, Harrow, London 
  • St James Catholic Primary School, Hebburn, Tyne and Wear 
  • St Leonard’s School, Durham, County Durham 
  • St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School, Darlington, County Durham 
  • St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive, Eltham, London 
  • Tendring Technology College, Frinton Campus, Essex
  • Thomas Lord Audley School, Colchester, Essex 
  • Thurstable school and sixth form, Essex 
  • White Hall Academy primary, Clacton, Essex 
  • Willowbrook Mead Primary Academy, Leicester, Leicestershire 
  • Winter Gardens Academy, Canvey Island, Essex
  • Wood Green Academy, Wednesbury, West Midlands 
  • Woodville Primary School, South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford, Essex 
  • Wyburns Primary School, Rayleigh, Essex 

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