An estimated 700,000 pupils attend the 1,200 schools that have been considered for the School Rebuilding Programme (SRP), which aims to rebuild or refurbish those buildings in the most need given safety matters or their poor general condition (which could include
problems with, for example, roofs, windows or heating systems).
Other concerns with school buildings are RAAC, asbestos, and fire suppression systems.
London Fire Brigade expressed concern that many schools are continuing to be built, or are undergoing major refurbishment, without automatic fire suppression systems (such as sprinklers).
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that it was “extremely concerned that DfE does not have a good enough understanding of the risks in school buildings to keep children and staff safe”.
Department for Education (DfE) officials were unable to tell the committee’s inquiry how many surveys to identify RAAC were outstanding, how many temporary classrooms had been provided to schools affected by RAAC or say when RAAC issues would be addressed.
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There is a lack of certainty on support for schools affected by RAAC, and questions around both the reliability of the DfE’s information on the number and condition and schools affected, and the government’s attitude to risk with regards to the school estate.
The report also notes that, as of July 2023, the DfE was unsighted on asbestos in 4% of schools.
While this has fallen from 7% at May 2022, this still represents almost 1,000 schools.
Both RAAC and asbestos can be present in the same building, complicating any works to tackle the issues, the MPs said.
Dame Meg Hillier, chair at the PAC, said: “A significant proportion of children in this country are learning in dilapidated or unsafe buildings.
“This is clearly beyond unacceptable, but overcoming the consequences of this deficit of long-term infrastructure planning will not be easy.
“The school rebuilding programme was already struggling to stay on track, and DfE lacked a mechanism to direct funding to regions which need it most.
“It risks being blown further off course by concerns over RAAC, and many schools in dire need of help will not receive it as a result.”