Temporary classrooms at concrete crisis schools will cost taxman £35m

Temporary classrooms at schools hit by the crumbling concrete crisis will cost the taxpayer up to £35 million

  • Department for Education has scrambled to deal with dangerous concrete crisis
  • It has given contracts worth £11.5m each to suppliers for portable classrooms
  • Government says 248 mobile classrooms are ordered for at least 29 schools 

Temporary classrooms for schools affected by the crumbling concrete crisis will cost taxpayers up to £35million.

Thousands of pupils were forced into emergency accommodation in September after it emerged some schools were built with RAAC – reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – which is prone to collapse.

To cope with the crisis, the Department for Education (DfE) has handed out three contracts worth £11.5million each to suppliers to hire the portable classrooms. The 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 248 mobile classrooms had been ordered by at least 29 schools.

She said that not all would be used as other solutions would allow pupils to remain in their affected classrooms.

Schools up and down Britain have been affected by the concrete crisis, such as St Andrew’s Junior School in Hatfield Peverel which was closed with immediate effect when it the sub-standard concrete discovered 

Many schools have followed Parks Primary School in Leicester, seen here, which has had to close off sections of their buildings after reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete was found

Last month 214 schools were identified as having RAAC on their sites. The cheap concrete was commonly used in construction from the 1950s to the mid-1990s but has a life span of just 30 years.

Concerns about its durability emerged when Education Secretary Gillian Keegan announced at the start of this term that hundreds of schools may have to close due to fears classrooms could collapse.

The temporary cabins can be rented for one to three years and officials will only pay for what they use, which may cut the bill. But if repairs are not completed in time, new contracts will have to be issued, potentially driving up the cost.

Unions criticised ministers for not acting sooner. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘It is beyond frustrating that so much cost and disruption has been caused by the RAAC crisis when this could have been averted.

‘The Government has been aware of the risks since at least 2018 but failed to address this with the urgency required, culminating in the eleventh-hour decision at the start of term to close buildings.

‘Schools are continuing to be affected by considerable disruption. All of this is part of a wider picture of neglect of the school estate.

‘In a report in June, the National Audit Office concluded that, following years of under-investment, the estate’s overall condition is declining and around 700,000 pupils are learning in a school that needs major rebuilding or refurbishment.’

A spokesman for the NASUWT teachers’ union added: ‘Taxpayers are again paying the bill for Government neglect and incompetence.’

A DfE spokesman denied that officials ‘expect to use the full worth of the contracts’.

He added: ‘We are working to permanently remove RAAC from schools and colleges. We will be providing capital grants or, where needed, rebuilding projects.’

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