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Sunak Acknowledges Potential Closure of Hundreds More Schools Due to Unsafe Concrete

Pupils in hundreds more schools could face disruption, acknowledged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as he was questioned over school closures and funding for repair works.

Last week, the Department for Education announced the buildings of 104 schools and colleges contained RAAC.

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a special type of concrete widely used between the 1950s and the early 1980s, is less durable and prone to collapse.

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Mr. Sunak said in an interview with Sky News that 95 percent of schools in England won’t be affected. Given that there are around 22,000 schools in the country that means 1,100 could face closure.

The government’s announcement came right before the start of a new school year. Mr. Sunak acknowledged that the timing was “frustrating.”

“New information came to light relatively recently and it’s important that once it had, that the government acted on it as swiftly as possible,” he added.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said that Downing Street expected the number of schools, ordered to shut, to be “in the hundreds, not thousands.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said that the government was waiting on schools to return their surveys and confirm their specific situations,” adding that before this happens “we can’t be more definitive.”

Shadow secretary for education, Bridget Phillipson, raised the issue of the safety of school buildings in parliament in May.

At the time, the MPs heard the minister for schools Nick Gibb say that in May 2022 the government requested information on RAAC from responsible bodies. Over 90 percent have responded and over 600 schools, colleges and nurseries have been surveyed.

“We expect the number of schools affected to be in the hundreds, not thousands,” the department for educations said on Monday.

Pupils in already announced schools will be fully or partially relocated to alternative accommodation, Ms. Keegan confirmed. To date, 52 schools and colleges are having to mitigate risks from RAAC, she added.

Funding Controversy

Ms. Keegan said that the government was taking a “proactive approach” in identifying school buildings exposed to RAAC hazards.

However, the government’s approach has been questioned by the former secretary at the Department for Education, Jonathan Slater.

Mr. Slater said that during Mr. Sunak’s time as chancellor, the government cut funding for school site repairs to cover 50 buildings, as opposed to the recommended 400 schools per year.

The prime minister rejected the idea that he was the one to blame for the RAAC crisis.

“That is completely and utterly wrong,” Mr. Sunak said, adding that as chancellor he announced a new 10 year school rebuilding programme for 500 schools.

“Now that equates to about 50 schools a year that will be refurbished or rebuilt,” the prime minister argued.

The Labour Party has insisted that Mr. Sunak “bears personal responsibility” for the concrete crisis, after cutting the school building budgets as chancellor.
According to Labour’s analysis, spending on school repairs was reduced from £765 million between 2019 and 2020 to £560 million in 2021. It then again dropped down to £416 million in 2021 to 2022, the party said.
Ms. Keegan confirmed on Monday that in terms of funding the government “will spend whatever it takes to keep children safe.”

This includes emergency repair works and providing alternative classroom space for students. The government also vowed to fund the long-term refurbishment and rebuilding projects to remove RAAC.

Ms. Phillipson said she posed the question about the condition of school buildings to the government on numerous occasions in the past year. She has 

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