Hundreds more UK school buildings could be crumbling, says minister
By Sachin Ravikumar
LONDON (Reuters) -Hundreds more school buildings in England might be crumbling and unsafe, Britain’s Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said on Monday after authorities ordered 104 schools to shut buildings with old and weak concrete.
The revelations of crumbling school buildings only days before the start of a new term has sparked anger among parents and teachers, representing a new political headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of an election expected next year.
The issue has added to the impression of decaying public infrastructure in Britain, which has faced months of disruptive strikes by workers including in hospitals and schools.
Keegan said the government was still awaiting responses from about 1,500 schools in England that were sent surveys to identify those with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), a lightweight form of concrete commonly used during the 1960s-80s but now considered weak and unsafe.
Keegan told BBC Radio that schools suspected to have RAAC would be inspected in the next two weeks, adding that “most of them won’t have RAAC”.
When asked if there could be hundreds more schools, she acknowledged that “it could be hundreds”.
Sunak, meanwhile, said that 95% of the roughly 22,000 schools in England would not be affected.
“In many cases, this could be limited to a single classroom, for example, so people should have a sense of the scale,” he told reporters on Monday.
Heaping pressure on the prime minister, the former top civil servant in the education department said that Sunak, in a previous job as finance minister, had halved annual funding to repair schools when officials had asked for it to be doubled.
“We were saying there is a critical risk to life if this programme is not funded,” former Permanent Secretary Jonathan Slater told BBC Radio. “I was absolutely amazed to see … the decision made.”
Asked if he was to blame, Sunak said it was “completely and utterly wrong” and that the funding he approved was in line with decisions taken over the previous decade.
(Reporting by Sachin RavikumarAdditional reporting by Kylie MacLellanEditing by Peter Graff and David Goodman)