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Ministers snubbed school bids to repair RAAC buildings

Ministers snubbed seven bids from schools for cash to fix RAAC-riddled buildings in the three years before the crumbly concrete crisis erupted.

Our analysis also shows that 146 applications lodged over the same period by schools constructed using RAAC for other kinds of repairs were rejected by the government.

The findings put the issue of inadequate capital investment under the spotlight once again, as leaders warn they are “struggling to get the money they need for building repairs”.

Pepe DiIasio

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Pepe Di’lasio accused the government of presiding over “years of underinvestment in the school estate”.

“Schools in desperate need of rebuilding or refurbishment are being pitted against each other for a share of capital funding that is clearly insufficient,” the union boss said.

“It should not be too much to ask for all school and college buildings to be safe and comfortable environments for pupils and staff.”

Figures obtained through freedom of information show three RAAC projects were refused condition improvement fund (CIF) cash last May. The schools were all later added to the government’s RAAC list.

One school applied to reinforce a roof containing the material. Another wanted the “dangerous” blocks replaced.

‘A very binary system’

In the two previous years, four more bids to remove the concrete were refused by the Department for Education. A further 146 proposals to carry out other types of work to RAAC schools missed out on government approval between 2021 and 2023.

These included plans to replace grade-II listed roofs, tear down modular classrooms, fix fire-safety issues and boost schools’ gas safety levels. The schools were not named.

The CIF pot is only open to applications from standalone academies or trusts with fewer than five schools wanting to keep a building “safe and in good working order”.

Larger academy chains and council schools get capital funding allocated automatically through a separate route.

Buildings specialist Robert Gould, of Barkers Associates, labelled CIF a “very binary system [as] you either get the money in full or you don’t get it at all and there’s no discussion afterwards”.

“There isn’t a facility within the system to have that nuanced conversation to say, ‘We’re not going to give you that, but we’ll give you £250,000 until we look at a bigger-picture solution’. It’s arguably a failure of the CIF system that you can’t do that.”

Hunt pledged to ‘spend what it takes’

It was not until last August that ministers ramped up their RAAC policy by ordering 104 schools containing it to partially or fully close. This action was previously only taken in the worst cases.

This came after officials learned of cases over the summer where buildings with the material collapsed despite not showing any signs of deterioration. The government’s final list of settings with RAAC, published in February, contained 234 schools.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged to “spend what it takes to make sure children can go to school safely”.

CIF guidance for its 2024-25 funding round was also changed to say applications for RAAC issues were “not required”, as the DfE “will fund both the immediate and long-term costs relating” to its mitigation and removal.

Building safety projects involving the concrete were previously placed in the fund’s highest priority level.

‘Learn quickly’ from RAAC mistakes

Di’lasio urged the next government “to quickly learn from the mistakes that led to the RAAC crisis and put in place a long-term capital investment plan” to address the “decades of underinvestment”.

However, both the main political parties have said nothing on capital investment, which has fallen by nearly half in real terms since 2010.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, added that ministers should “set out an urgent school rebuilding programme to at the very least replace the oldest, most decrepit buildings”.

He added: “We urgently need the next government to commit the funding needed to restore all school buildings to at least a ‘satisfactory’ condition as soon as possible to ensure that all are safe and fit for purpose.”

The DfE stressed that professional advice from technical experts on RAAC has evolved over time and it has been continuously monitoring the evidence. It added that it has committed to funding the concrete’s removal from the estate either through grants or the school rebuilding programme.

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