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Forbes Solicitors on recent RAAC school closures

Published

By Michelle Newcombe

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people is of paramount importance, in accordance with the statutory safeguarding guidance of Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE).  With this in mind, Forbes Solicitors, a supplier on CPC's Legal Services framework, have provided some commentary on the RAAC crisis, as well as compiling some potentially invaluable links.

"As the parent of a school-aged child, I, like many other parents, teachers and those employed in education, was preparing for them to go back to school...

"Concentrating on pulling together the correct uniform, purchasing coloured pens and trying to find the PE bag.

"What I suspect none of us were expecting was an announcement two working days before the reopening of many schools across the UK, to say that some may need to close due to their potentially dangerous condition".

So what has happened?

In the post war period, primarily from the 1950s to 1990s, there was a significant school building project, to rebuild and expand the post-war education infrastructure. In order to meet these needs, some schools around the UK were partially built, or had extensions added, using a construction material called RAAC (or Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete). It has been known for quite some time, with some references being as early as the mid 1990s, that RAAC had a shelf life of 30 years, after which its structure would begin to deteriorate.

The UK Government reports they have known about substantial risks with RAAC since 2018, following a classroom ceiling collapse in Kent, with a warning sent out in 2021 and questionnaires sent out to schools in 2022 to try and establish which might have this material in the construction of their building.

Following this, the National Audit Office reported in June 2023 about the dire state of school buildings:

Condition of school buildings (nao.org.uk)

Risk from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) - Education - HSE

The RAAC issue forms part of a greater problem with buildings being underfunded and using materials now deemed hazardous, such as asbestos.

It would appear that, during the summer break, a number of school buildings collapsed, or showed evidence of potential for collapse, prompting the urgent guidance to schools issued by the DfE. None of these incidents resulted in injury, but their existence has resulted in the Government changing their previous assessment of risk with regards to whether RAAC poses an immediate problem. They are therefore now advising education settings to close any spaces or buildings known to contain RAAC, irrespective of whether they are deemed to be showing deterioration or not, to allow mitigations to be put in place.

So what now?

If you haven’t returned the questionnaire sent by the Department for Education in March 2022, then please do so immediately, particularly if you suspect that your school buildings have RAAC on site. The DfE will arrange for a survey to be undertaken and your school will be assigned a case worker.

Without wishing to cause panic, there may still be schools where such RAAC has not been identified or surveyed. The DfE has suggested that, if the school or responsible body is worried about RAAC, they should fill out the questionnaire. Based on the answers, the school may then be brought forward for surveying.

To access the questionnaire and current Government guidance, please use the following link:

Everything you need to know about the new guidance on RAAC in education settings - The Education Hub (blog.gov.uk)

From a practical point of view, it is time to call your business and facilities managers in, walk around the school and see what you can see. If you don’t know whether you have RAAC, put together a contingency plan. Be prepared to vacate - have a plan and some form of alternative accommodation in mind, or a strategy for alternative methods of learning, with remote learning being deemed a last resort.  

You can find out more about identifying RAAC below:

Information on Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) | Local Government Association.

The Government guidance confirms that any mitigation works that are capital-funded will be covered by the DfE. However, local authorities or trusts, or non-maintained nurseries, will have to use their own funding to cover any additional revenue costs, such as rental costs for emergency or temporary accommodation or additional transport costs if pupils have to travel elsewhere. We advise you to check your funding situation.

Any setting with a commercial insurance provider should talk to them about covering the issues, or consult the Risk Protection Arrangement, if a member.

For more information, contact Kella Bowers in Forbes' Education department via email or 01254 222 437.

Alternatively, send any questions across via Forbes Solicitors' online Contact Form.

For help using CPC's Legal Services framework, contact Dukefield Procurement.

Dukefield Procurement serve as Contract Managers for this particular agreement.

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