The government is engulfed in a new controversy following the discovery of dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) walls and ceilings at more than 100 English schools and colleges. The row has prompted Labour to increase pressure on the County Council for answers on the true state of school buildings in Leicestershire. Labour Leader, Cllr Amanda Hack, first asked for the information in June. However, the ambiguous reply triggered further Labour calls for a detailed report which was presented to yesterday’s Children and Families Scrutiny Committee.
Councillor Hack said:
“Parents across Leicestershire will be relieved that no school building in the county appears to be on the RAAC danger list. But the crisis is the tip of an iceberg created by 13 years of underinvestment, neglect and sticking plaster politics.” The problem was exposed in the Conditions of School Buildings survey published in 2021. The survey revealed that in Leicestershire and Rutland, 260 school buildings were assessed as in “Poor” condition. More worryingly, 77 school buildings were found to be in “Bad” condition and described as being “life expired and/or at serious risk of immediate failure.”
Labour’s questions have highlighted additional problems. The transfer of school premises to Academy management has created a situation where the true condition of most Leicestershire schools can only be discovered on an ad hoc basis. There is no obligation on Academy Trusts to notify the County Council of any problems.
Cllr Hack continued:
“Despite having responsibility for school place allocations in Leicestershire, the County Council does not have a clear picture of the state of repair in our schools. I first raised this issue three months ago, following a big fanfare over the allocation of cash for 38 school buildings in the county. On closer examination, it turned out that it wasn’t new funding. It was an emergency allocation to fix problems, including fire safety, gas safety, pupil safeguarding, roof leaks and urgent electrical work. This maintenance should have been carried out months or years ago.
Even more alarming was the discovery that around two out of every three requests for repair work at county schools was rejected.”
In 2018, the government was advised that more than 300 new schools would be needed in England yearly to avoid a major crisis. Despite these warnings, no money was made available. Rishi Sunak cut the school building budget in half when he was Chancellor in 2021.
Cllr Hack concluded:
“It’s a disgrace. We can’t get satisfactory answers from the leadership of Leicestershire County Council on the true state of our schools, nor the Department for Education. Only a general election and a change of government can rescue us from this mess.”