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Church schools find workarounds after appearing on Government’s RAAC list

04 September 2023


Taped-off section inside Parks Primary School in Leicester, this week, where Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete has been used

Taped-off section inside Parks Primary School in Leicester, this week, where Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete has been used

CHURCH OF ENGLAND schools are among the more than 100 education establishments that have been asked to close by the Government owing to safety concerns surrounding the type of concrete used in their construction.

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) is a building material used in construction from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. The Standing Committee on Structural Safety has described it as “much weaker” than traditional concrete.

The Government said in a statement last week that it had been monitoring the safety of RAAC buildings. “Recent cases have led to a loss of confidence in buildings containing the material, leading us to advise education settings (schools, colleges and maintained nursery schools) to vacate all spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC, unless they already have mitigations in place to make the building safe. We’re working hard to make sure any disruption to education is kept to a minimum.”

It adds that most schools will be unaffected. “We have spoken to the education settings that are impacted and all of them will now be contacted by a dedicated caseworker who will support them through each step of this process.”

The full list of closures has since been published, and includes several C of E schools.

A Church of England spokesperson said: “The safety of children and staff in schools is of the paramount importance. We are aware of the issue facing some schools that were constructed with a certain type of concrete.

“The Church of England Education Office is in contact with government ministers and the Department for Education on this matter, and is ensuring dioceses are aware of the situation where it affects their schools. We are in close communication with them about any needed mitigations or contingency measures.”

Schools have been given short notice before the start of term. A statement from the head teacher of Waddesdon C of E School, a secondary in Buckinghamshire, said last Friday that the school had been informed by the Department for Education the previous day that sections of RAAC had been confirmed in its restaurant and “potentially” in areas of its central teaching block.

“We are working around the clock with the DfE and local authority to manage this situation and the implications for our students,” the statement said. New pupils would still be in school for induction on Wednesday, and the school would deliver face-to-face teaching to Years 7, 8, and 12, and remote learning to students in years 9, 10, 11, and 13 via Teams.

The main school building of Mistley Norman C of E Primary School, north-east Essex, has also been closed, a statement on the website confirms. It says: “The children are currently being educated at Lawford Church of England Primary School, and in September will be educated at Two Village Church of England Primary School.”

Other C of E Schools listed are St Mary Magdalene Academy, London; Canon Slade School, Bolton; and St Andrew’s Junior School, Hatfield Peverel, in Cornwall, which is reportedly closed until at least mid-September.

At least 17 Roman Catholic schools have been affected.

Church buildings other than schools built between 1950 and 1990 may also contain RAAC. The Church Buildings team offered this advice on Tuesday: “As each church building is professionally inspected each five years (quinquennial inspection) the presence of the material should have been noted as part of the inspection, which is a good first step to knowing it is present.

A church from the era when the material was used, that is of concrete construction, would be advised to confirm with their inspector if there is any risk, if they are not already aware. We are in touch with relevant third parties including insurers and the Surveyors Association and will update dioceses as and when additional guidance emerges.”

Chester diocese had offered its own advice to the recipients of its e-bulletin: “Should you be responsible for a building of around this age and suspect that this material is present, perhaps in a concrete ceiling or wall panels, it is likely to be perfectly safe. As a precaution you are advised to contact your church architect (in the case of a church building) and/or a structural engineer and arrange for a specialist inspection of the building concerned.

“If the building does contain RAAC it may not be necessary to cease using it. Your professional advisors will be able to inform you of the appropriate action to ensure that everyone is kept safe. If RAAC is present you should inform your insurers. If RAAC is found in a church, the DAC office should be kept informed of any proposed remedial work, which may require a faculty.”

Read more on the story from Paul Vallely

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