Officials have raised the risk level of school buildings collapsing to “very likely”, after an increase in serious structural issues being reported – especially in blocks built in the years 1945 to 1970.

England’s dilapidated school estate has been a cause of growing concern, but the dangers were laid bare in the Department for Education’s (DfE) annual report, which highlights school building safety as one of six key risks.

At time of publication there was no imminent risk to life, the report states by way of reassurance, but the situation was said to be “worsening”. As a result officials have escalated the risk level for school buildings collapsing from “critical – likely” to “critical – very likely”, with the issue now so urgent it is being overseen by a board of permanent secretaries from across government departments.

Other risks being managed by the DfE, according to the annual report, include loss in public confidence in the fairness of public exams, concerns that children and young people will not recover from the impact of Covid leading to a widening attainment gap between pupils, high needs cost pressures and cybersecurity.

The DfE’s annual report says: “There is a risk of collapse of one or more blocks in some schools which are at or approaching the end of their designed life-expectancy and structural integrity is impaired.

“The risk predominantly exists in those buildings built in the years 1945 to 1970 which used ‘system build’ light frame techniques. At the publication there are no open schools or college buildings where we know of an imminent risk to life.”

The report says the risks are “unlikely to reduce in 2022”, as there was no agreed increase in condition funding or in the scale of the rebuilding programme at the 2021 spending review.

Labour urged the government to tell parents which buildings were affected and to reassure them they are being made safe. “This Conservative government is risking its most basic duty: to keep our children safe from harm,” the shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, warned.

The DfE says the life expectancy of buildings can however be extended by careful monitoring and maintenance. The department has also opened the next round of its school rebuilding programme, which plans to rebuild buildings at 500 schools over the next decade and will prioritise those schools for selection “where there is clear evidence this risk is present”. Last week it announced 239 schools that will benefit.

Many of the structural problems are associated with postwar construction techniques developed as a result of budget constraints and material shortages after the second world war to expand the school estate and growing pupil numbers.

Privacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Phillipson said: “The secretary of state needs to come to the house as soon as possible and tell parents where these buildings are and that they are urgently being made safe.”

A DfE spokesperson said the safety of pupils and staff was paramount, adding that one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys of school building conditions in Europe was under way to assess and manage risk.

“We prioritise buildings where there is a risk to health and safety, and over £13bn has been allocated since 2015 to maintain and improve school facilities across England, including £1.8bn in 2022-23.


Source link