'This is a MESS, isn't it?' Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is grilled by GMB's Susanna Reid over crumbling concrete crisis with thousands of pupils STILL in the dark over whether their schools could collapse

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  • READ MORE: Full list of RAAC closures as school term begins 
  • RAAC concrete school closures LIVE: Students being bussed to alternative sites  

The crumbling concrete scandal that has thrust schools up and down the country into crisis with thousands of pupils still in the dark on whether their ceilings will collapse has been branded a ‘mess’.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan looked visibly uncomfortable as she was grilled by Good Morning Britain host Susanna Reid this morning. 

Sitting alongside fellow presenter Ed Balls – a former secretary of state for education – Ms Reid said: ‘This is a mess, isn’t it?’

Ms Keegan appeared uncomfortable as she went on to try and explain what had happened over the summer which has plunged more than a hundred schools into chaos with some having to shut off buildings, while others have closed completely as term started today. 

Three ‘incidents’ occurred – some not in schools – where in one a roof panel had fallen at a ‘non-critical’ site towards the end of August, she said.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was grilled by Good Morning Britain's Susan Reid over the crumbling concrete crisis that has impacted schools

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was grilled by Good Morning Britain’s Susan Reid over the crumbling concrete crisis that has impacted schools

Ms Keegan appeared to look uncomfortable during the interview as she was criticised for not acting sooner

Ms Keegan appeared to look uncomfortable during the interview as she was criticised for not acting sooner 

After speaking to experts and structural engineers, Ms Keegan took the ‘very cautious decision’ guidance.

READ MORE: Schools closed today: Full list of RAAC concrete closures as new term begins

 

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‘I didn’t want to risk this happening anywhere,’ she said. ‘So I change the guidance on non-critical roofs to say we had to do the same with critical ones, which is prop them up or get temporary accommodation in place.

‘I do understand that for parents and the headteachers who are affected that was last minute, but you can only act on the evidence when it emerges.’

Interrupting her, Ms Reid pointed to an ITV investigation in March where it was found 68 schools were aware it had RAAC  – a lightweight form of concrete used between the 1950s and 1990s – and could be at risk with more than 1,500 in the dark, with 2,000 still to have an inspection.

Ms Reid said: ‘That was back in March, we are now in September and you won’t know the full scale of this until the end of the year. Daniel [Hewitt, ITV reporter] said at the time in March that he had not had an interview with the Department for Education.

‘We bid for an interview with you or one of your ministers back in March and could not get anywhere with this. It seems remarkable that now the first day of term we are in the situation we are in when you knew the full scale of this back in March.’

A taped off section inside Parks Primary School in Leicester which has been affected by the Raac crisis

A taped off section inside Parks Primary School in Leicester which has been affected by the Raac crisis 

One document based on assessment conducted at West Suffolk Hospital in April warned of a 'catastrophic' and 'likely' risk of potential failure of the main building due to the presence of RAAC

One document based on assessment conducted at West Suffolk Hospital in April warned of a ‘catastrophic’ and ‘likely’ risk of potential failure of the main building due to the presence of RAAC

Ms Keegan appeared to lay the blame on the local authorities and trusts in charge of schools saying they were responsible for checking the ceilings and doing the analysis. 

How and when did evidence come to light on the concrete scandal?

• 1950s up to the mid-1990s – RAAC, a lightweight building material, is used

• 1995 – The Times newspaper reports the first warnings about RAAC cracking in roofs came in

• 2018 – The Department for Education (DfE) considers RAAC as a potential issue

• June 2023 – Problems were highlighted in a report by the National Audit Office (NAO)

• Summer 2023 – Schools minister Nick Gibb says fresh evidence came to light

• August 31, 2023 – Parents are informed some schools will be forced to close

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The Department for Education decided to go ‘belt and braces on this’ in March 2022, the Education Secretary said, as ‘we didn’t have visibility of what everyone was doing as a responsible body’.

‘We identified 1,500 schools that could have RAAC as they were built in the period,’ she said. 

‘We sent out a detailed questionnaire with guidance on how they identified RAAC. Ninety percent of those came back and the vast majority of those do not have RAAC.

‘Of the ninety percent that came back only one percent of them had any kind of suspected RAAC.’

Some 1,500 schools have not returned surveys asking whether they have concerns about the concrete on their estates.

Another 450 schools with suspected issued have yet to be inspected by engineers.

Ms Keegan acknowledged that meant ‘hundreds’ of schools could have further issues that will require mitigations, although she stressed the vast majority will be completely safe and the government’s approach is ‘very, very cautious’.

The minister signalled that structural inspections were being dramatically speeded up, after an outcry that the current timetable of December was unacceptable.

And she committed to publishing a full list of institutions affected after they have been double-checked.

Although she insisted that schools will not be left out of pocket, Ms Keegan was unable to give any estimate of the cost to the taxpayer from dealing with the problems.

Gillian Keegan told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’ve now increased to eight surveying companies. We have a national propping company who’s all prepared to go in and prop.

‘And we have contracted with three Portakabin or temporary accommodation companies who have on stock the Portakabins available.

‘So normally we wouldn’t do this, the responsible bodies would do it, but to make it much more efficient we’ve centrally taken that on board so that we can a) pay for it and b) make sure that it’s very quickly available.’

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday promised that ministers would take action ‘whether it is RAAC or the wider asbestos issue’ and ‘do what it takes to keep children safe’.

Speaking on Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Mr Hunt said: ‘We will prioritise spending money to sort out these problems where that needs to happen.

‘We have 22,000 schools in the country and there has been since that incident a huge programme going through this RAAC/asbestos issue because we want to be absolutely sure that every child is safe.’




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