As students return to class, ministers are under scrutiny to detail their efforts to eliminate aerated concrete as a threat to schools.
With the conclusion of the summer break for kids and the return of lawmakers from recess, parents and lawmakers alike are left wondering how long the disturbance will continue even after potential dangers have been neutralized.
After assuring parents that the government will “spend what it takes” to fix the issue, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed that the funds for the necessary renovations would be taken from the DfE’s existing capital budget.
The government has ordered over a hundred educational institutions to either completely or partially close their campuses because to the recent collapse of a beam that was previously declared safe.
The government has acknowledged that more classrooms may have to close when more evaluations are conducted of the hazards of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) in structures.
The DfE has not yet issued a complete list of affected schools, however some in London have been identified.
A “scandal” exists, according to Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson, because “ministers are still not being upfront about the scale of what we are facing” as children return to school.
She emphasized how urgent it was that the whole list of schools be made public.
If they don’t make that change, we’ll force a vote in the House of Commons so that parents can be in the loop.
“Ministers need to get a grip on this because this is a department that is in complete chaos,” one official said. “This is completely unacceptable, children have seen so much disruption to their education.”
While preparing to brief Parliament this week on the government’s plans to handle the schools crisis, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will make her first appearance on the morning broadcast cycle on Monday.
A list of the impacted schools will be released “in due course,” according to ministers, but Labour has vowed to force a vote to compel its release next week.
Children who are unable to attend traditional classes should engage in “days, not weeks” of remote learning, according to the government, though officials have been vague about when the interruption will end.
While structural supports are being added to lessen the risk of collapse, school administrators have been encouraged to use community centers, empty offices, or other schools.
Unions are frustrated by the lack of clarity over which expenses will be covered by the Government and have demanded to know if principals will be reimbursed for mitigation expenditures.
Ms. Phillipson expressed concern that “raiding” the capital budget of the DfE, which includes funds for buildings and infrastructure, to pay for repairs could have unintended consequences.
As Parliament resumes its work, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will face even more difficulties, including the crisis over the potentially harmful concrete.
Public buildings have come under scrutiny in 2018 due to concerns around Raac, a lightweight concrete used until the mid-1990s. Ministers have been accused of not acting quickly enough.
Experts have voiced concerns that the dangers posed by the presence of this material in institutions like hospitals, courthouses, and prisons are more than previously thought.
Raac tests are also being administered to schools in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Government has stated that they have a presence at 35 schools, but that there is no “immediate risk” to student safety.
Local authorities and educational institutions in Wales have not reported seeing Raac, according to the government.