- The Department of Education has stepped up to tackle the dangerous concrete crisis
- It has signed contracts worth £11.5m each with portable classroom suppliers
- The government says 248 mobile classrooms have been ordered for at least 29 schools
Temporary classrooms for schools hit by the crumbling concrete crisis will cost taxpayers up to £35 million.
Thousands of students were forced into temporary accommodation in September when it emerged that some schools were built with RAAC – reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – which is susceptible to collapse.
To tackle the crisis, the Department for Education (DfE) has awarded three contracts worth £11.5m each to suppliers to rent portable classrooms. Lucrative deals went to Portakabin in Yorkshire, Wernick Buildings in Essex and Algeco in Manchester.
In September, DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood told a committee of MPs that at least 29 schools had ordered 248 mobile classrooms.
She said not all of them would be implemented because other solutions would allow students to remain in affected classrooms.
The concrete crisis has hit schools across the UK, such as St Andrew’s Junior School in Hatfield Peverel, which closed with immediate effect after substandard concrete was discovered
Many schools have followed in the footsteps of Parks Primary School in Leicester, seen here, which had to close parts of its buildings after finding reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete
Last month, 214 schools were identified as having RAAC on their websites. Cheap concrete was widely used in construction from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, but its lifespan was only 30 years.
Doubts about the school’s sustainability were raised when, at the start of the term, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan announced that hundreds of schools might have to close amid fears that classrooms might collapse.
Temporary homes can be rented for one to three years, and officials only pay for what they use, which can lower the bill. However, if repairs are not completed on time, new contracts will need to be concluded, which may increase costs.
Unions criticized ministers for failing to act sooner. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is unacceptable that the RAAC crisis has caused so much cost and disruption when it could have been prevented.
“The Government has been aware of the threats since at least 2018 but has failed to address them with the required urgency, culminating in a last-minute decision at the start of the term to close buildings.
“Schools continue to experience significant disruption. All of this fits into a broader picture of neglect of school property.
“In a June report, the National Audit Office found that after years of underinvestment, the overall condition of the estate was deteriorating, and there were approximately 700,000 students in a school requiring major reconstruction or renovation.”
A spokesman for the NASUWT teachers’ union added: “Taxpayers are once again footing the bill for the government’s negligence and incompetence.”
A DfE spokesman denied that officials “expected to use up the full value of the contracts”.
He added: “We are working to permanently remove RAAC from schools and colleges. We will provide capital grants or rehabilitation projects as needed.