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Scottish Minister Confirms 35 Schools at Risk of Concrete Collapse

A bubbly type of concrete at risk of collapsing has been found in 35 schools, Scotland’s Education Minister Jenny Gilruth confirmed on Friday.

It comes after more than 100 schools in England were told to shut all or part of their buildings because of the presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), a lightweight concrete used between the 1950s to the mid-1990s.

Speaking to BBC Scotland’s “Drivetime” radio programme, the minister said 35 schools were found to have been affected.

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“So a relatively small number in comparison to the overall school estate which is around 2,500 schools,” she said.

Ms. Gilruth said the local authorities had sought to reassure her that they were “acting to put in place mitigations,” including a number of local authorities that had closed classrooms.

The minister said the Scottish government doesn’t currently plan to order all schools with RAACs to shut the affected buildings.

The Department for Education’s decision to close affected school buildings in England moved “away from the guidance issued by the Institute for structural engineers [IStructE],” Ms. Gilruth said.

“That is still the advice that we will continue to adhere to in Scotland. It is the advice that is being adhered to in Wales. But if the Department for Education is able to provide us with further evidence as to why they have made this move, then we will of course consider it because of course our children’s safety in our schools is paramount,” she said.

IStructE guidance grades the level of risks of RAAC as low, medium, high, and critical. The guidance says low-risk buildings need occasional inspection, medium-risk buildings need regular inspection, high-risk buildings require remedial action as soon as possible, and critical-risk buildings require urgent remedial work.

The UK government’s schools minister Nick Gibb said on Friday the ministers decided to shut all school buildings that have RAAC because a RAAC beam which was showing no signs of “critical risk” suddenly collapsed recently.

“So we took a very strict decision over the summer, we liaised with experts, and we took a cautious approach to make sure, because safety of children and staff in our schools is of the utmost importance,” the minister told GB News.

“So we took the decision that the previous policy, which was to take buildings out of use if the RAAC was considered to be in a critical state, we changed that policy yesterday so that any RAAC identified in schools, now those buildings will be taken out of use.

“And we are supporting the 156 schools where this is a situation to find alternative accommodation for students,” she said.

On Thursday, the Department for Education said it had contacted 104 more schools after 52 of the 156 educational settings containing the concrete took protective steps so far this year.

Apart from schools, there have also been “eye-watering” costs on RAAC roofs in hospitals, according to Dame Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

“In both schools and hospitals, there hasn’t been enough money going into buildings and equipment,” she told Times Radio.

“The cost of doing it is enormous. We’re talking millions of pounds to survey a roof in a corridor in order to make sure they know where the problems are. … Every time another problem arises, they have to go back and do another survey,” she said.

Writing in The Times of London, Dame questions why action was not taken earlier since “it was as far back as 1999 when the standing committee on structural safety recommended that all buildings with pre-1980 RAAC plank roofs should be inspected.”

Chris Summers contributed to this report.

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