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Government told ‘get grip’ amid new schools concrete crisis

Ministers have been urged to “get a grip” after a new type of crumbly concrete at fault for a school ceiling collapse has sparked disruption in the North East.

North Tyneside Council chiefs suspect a concrete construction method – that isn’t RAAC – was at fault for the issue at Fordley Primary in Cramlington two months ago.

Local authority chiefs launched a series of urgent inspections across the area following the collapse, later deciding further investigations were required at three more schools, which all at least partially closed – affecting hundreds of pupils.

Some year groups at Fordley are being bussed to classes elsewhere, while all pupils at two of the other impacted sites have been forced into remote learning.  

Catherine McKinnell

Labour shadow schools minister Catherine McKinnell accused the Conservatives of “allowing children’s education to be disrupted by worrying safety issues with school buildings”.  

“Ministers must urgently get a grip, clarify the extent of these problems on top of RAAC, and explain what action they will take, with clear timescales, to ensure all students can get back into the classroom. 

“After over a decade of neglect, this crisis is another example of a Conservative government that simply does not prioritise children or their education.”

A small section of a ceiling at Fordley collapsed overnight on December 20. Three year groups are in face-to-face learning at the site, while years 4 to 6 are being educated elsewhere.

Sections of schools sealed off

Jon Ritchie, North Tyneside Council’s director of resources, said the authority “proactively investigated whether any other schools… may have had similar construction methods in any areas of their buildings, as a precautionary measure”.

Preliminary inspections showed further investigations were required at Churchill Community College, Grasmere Academy and Hazlewood Primary.

Until the detailed checks’ full findings are known, the schools decided to “close the parts of the buildings where inspections are needed”.

“Where early inspections have revealed concerns, decisions have also been taken in conjunction with the schools for either whole-school, or partial school, closures,” Ritchie added.

Churchill Community College headteacher Paul Johnson said in a letter to parents that building surveyors had been on site last week to investigate.

“I would like to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to continue all of our students education and return to face-to-face learning as quickly as we can, while keeping the safety of everyone at the front of our decisions.

“I understand that this may put pressures on families and we will work with you to solve any issues or concerns that we can.”

At Grasmere, nursery, reception and year 6 pupils were back this week – while others continued learning from home.

Kerry Lilico, headteacher, added in a letter to parent: “Keeping children and staff safe at school is the responsibility of the school, the council and the DfE. It is a priority for us and something we have to take very seriously. The measures have been put in place to reduce the risk to the school community.”

Rebuilds or grants for RAAC schools were confirmed last week, although there is no clarity on when works would be completed.

But there are much wider concerns over the state of school buildings.

The National Audit Office found there are 700,000 pupils in buildings needed major repair work, with a £2 billion capital funding shortfall.

Schools Week revealed last year promises by ministers to inspect hundreds of post-war school buildings that are ranked alongside RAAC as a top safety concern had not been met.

The 3,600 “system-built” classroom blocks, quickly put up after the second world war, are “more susceptible to deterioration” and “could lead to a higher risk of hidden structural defects”.

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