Over 500,000 Pupils in England attend unsafe schools, watchdog warns

New research from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found the government does not have sufficient information to manage ‘critical’ risks arising from the number of unsafe school buildings in England.

 The report from NAO, which was released yesterday, outlined 700,000 children attend schools that require major repairs following years of underfunding, with poor conditions affecting pupil attainment and teacher retention.

photography of school room

NAO head, Gareth Davies, said that despite assessing the possibility of building collapse or failure causing death or injury as ‘critical and very likely’ in 2021, ‘the Department for Education has not been able to reduce this risk.

According to the research around 24,000 school buildings are currently beyond their estimated design lifespan. A major cause of concern is the prevalence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which is prone to failure and was frequently used between the 1950s and 1990s.

Responding to the findings, Labour chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, said: ‘700,000 pupils are learning in a school that needs major rebuilding or refurbishment, but worryingly government does not know how many schools may be unsafe.

‘Since 2017, the Department for Education has improved its data on the general condition of the school estate, which has helped illustrate a serious deficit in annual funding required to improve schools.

‘After years of firefighting issues, parents need reassurance that the department knows where, when and how any risks to their children will be remedied.’

In addition, the report also highlights that specialists are carrying out urgent checks on almost 600 schools in England – the Department for Education has identified 572 schools so far where it believes reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a building material that deteriorates over time and is susceptible to sudden failure, may have been used during construction.

According to the NAO, RAAC has been confirmed in 65 schools after 196 surveys were completed, of which 24 required emergency action. The danger has been considered so great that a number of schools have had to close, while others have required emergency propping up owing to fears of collapse.

Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, said: ‘Labour has repeatedly raised the risk to life that school buildings pose to children and staff but have been met with a wall of silence from the Conservative government.

‘Children won’t receive a first-class education in second rate buildings. It’s time for ministers to come clean and tell parents what they know about the state of school buildings and reassure them that children are being educated in buildings that are safe.’

Against this backdrop, this report was announced just after research from the Children’s Society found that parents are having to fork out a small fortune to pay for their children’s uniform despite the government implementing laws that state institutions should be helping them.

Both of these shocking findings that have been brought to the surface this week display the severe lack of funding schools are receiving, displaying they are unable to help children with the dress code and promise them an education is a sturdy building.


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