School building collapse causing death or injury ‘very likely’, according to a National Audit Office report

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A new report from the National Audit Office has found that 700,000 children are attending a school in England that require major repairs

A watchdog has warned that a school collapse that could cause death or injury is "very likely". Despite this, the government does not currently have the information needed to manage the "critical" risks to the safety of pupils and staff.

The assessment that revealed the possibility of building collapse or failure causing death or injury as "critical and very likely" happened in 2021, but the Department for Education (DfE) "has not been able to reduce this risk".

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The National Audit Office (NAO) said that around 700,000 pupils are attending schools that require ‘major repairs’ after being underfunded for years. Approximately 24,000 school buildings - which make up more than a third - are beyond their estimated design lifespan.

The government has been accused of dangerous neglect by some school leaders, who have described the scale of building safety issues as "shocking".

A big cause for concern is reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) is particularly prone to failure, and was used regularly during the 1950s and 1960s. The DfE has been aware of the risks posed by RAAC wa after a roof collapsed in a school in Kent in 2018.

The NAO has said the focus has now switched to the 14,900 schools which were built when RAAC was used in construction. 42 percent of these schools have now undertaken work to identify the concrete.

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As of May 2023, 572 schools had been confirmed to be containing RAAC. The DfE is now working with those schools to ‘mitigate the safety of staff and pupils’.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is perfectly clear that the government has made a conscious decision to deprioritise education over the past 14 years and the deterioration of the school estate is one of the results of this mindset."

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The BBC quoted a DfE official saying the government was investing in 500 projects for new and refurbished school buildings, through its school-rebuilding programme. Academy trusts, local authorities and voluntary-aided school bodies were responsible for the maintenance of schools and should contact the department with concerns.

"We will always provide support on a case-by-case basis, if we are alerted to a serious safety issue by these responsible bodies," the official added.

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