THE presence of collapse-risk concrete in Scottish and Northern Irish schools is being assessed by ministers after the UK Government confirmed it will close more than 100 English schools and colleges due to the potentially harmful material.

Pupils at the 104 English schools will be placed in temporary accommodation amid the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

The Scottish Government has confirmed work is under way to fully understand the presence of Raac across the school estate in Scotland, with local authorities expected to prioritise remedial work and schools in Northern Ireland are to be contacted about structural surveys to determine the extent of the presence of Raac.

Although Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Most parents should not be worried about this at all," not everybody shares that same sentiment.

The Department for Education (DfE) said some children may be forced back into pandemic-style remote learning. They also refused to publicly reveal the 104 education facilities that have been told to shut buildings.

However, they have addressed the RAAC concrete issue on their official website, where they answered the most common questions surrounding the confusion.

Here is what they said:

What is RAAC?  

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete. The Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) has noted that: "Although called “concrete”, (RAAC) is very different from traditional concrete and, because of the way in which it was made, much weaker.

"RAAC was used in schools, colleges and other building construction from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. It may therefore be found in any school and college building (educational and ancillary) that was either built or modified in this time period." 

How and why has the way you deal with RAAC changed?  

They continued:

We have been helping schools and responsible bodies (such as local authorities and multi-academy trusts) to manage the potential risks of RAAC since 2018 by providing guidance and funding.  

However, new cases have made us less confident that buildings containing RAAC should remain open without extra safety measures in place. 

As a result, we’re changing our approach and advising education settings to close any spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC to allow them to put mitigations in place. This is a precautionary step, but the safety of young people and staff is always our priority.   

To minimise any disruption, all education settings with confirmed RAAC will be supported by a dedicated caseworker to help them through any necessary changes. 

Why have you done this now? 

The Department for Education (DfE) said:

The Government has been aware of public sector buildings that contain RAAC since 1994 and we have been monitoring their condition since 2018. We continually assess new information and research about RAAC to ensure the safety of schools and pupils.   

In 2022, the Department for Education sent a questionnaire to all responsible bodies, asking them to provide information to help us understand the use of RAAC across the school estate and make sure the correct support is in place. 

Recent cases have now changed our assessment of the risk that RAAC poses to building safety. 

We are taking immediate steps to ensure the safety of staff and pupils in line with this.

Responsible bodies should continue to come forward with information, using the questionnaire, so we can help them to identify and manage RAAC.    

How many schools are affected by RAAC? Will all of them need to close? 

No – not all schools affected by RAAC need to close. 

They added:

Just over 50 settings have already been supported to put mitigations in place this year, including through additional funding for temporary accommodation, and all children are receiving face to face learning.   

This week, we have contacted all 104 further settings where RAAC is currently confirmed to be present without mitigations in place, to ask them to vacate spaces or buildings that are known to contain RAAC.  

The impact of RAAC is varied – some settings may have very little RAAC present with limited disruption as a result. For example, this change in approach could lead to the temporary closure of one school space, like a single classroom. In most cases, children will be able to continue attending school as normal. 

A significant proportion of the school estate was built outside the period where RAAC was used so we have focused our efforts on buildings built in the post-war decades – 31% of our buildings were built since 2001.  

Is my child’s school closing because of RAAC? How can I find out the latest information? 

Schools and other education settings will let you know directly if there is any change to the start of term. 

Most schools will be unaffected, and children should attend school as normal in September, unless you hear differently.