Parents ‘stressed to bits’ over RAAC school closures amid fears their children’s education could suffer as new school term is delayed for many and other pupils return to makeshift classrooms
Parents today declared they are ‘stressed to bits’ about their children’s education and grades – and fearing for their own jobs – after schools closed because of the crumbling concrete crisis.
There is turmoil all over the country after more than a hundred schools in England were told they could not fully open because of safety fears on the eve of the start of the autumn term.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is said to be fighting for survival today after claiming she is doing ‘a f***ing good job’ while others had ‘sat on their a***s’ in an embarrassing ‘hot mic’ incident yesterday.
Last week she was holidaying in Spain when headteachers had to scramble to find temporary classrooms or carry out last minute repairs after the Department for Education told them last Thursday that aerated concrete panels could crumble and collapse.
In some schools up to half of buildings contained Raac concrete, meaning that classrooms, toilets, staff rooms and corridors have had to be sealed off. This has led to a return to online learning for thousands of children, echoing the dark days of the pandemic that was so damaging to the education of millions of children.
Sarah Ingham, 46, from Hebburn, South Tyneside, is recovering from breast cancer and may now have to cancel crucial hospital appointments after school start was delayed for her daughter Lucy.
She said: ‘I am sitting here stressed to bits. We all know school is closed tomorrow [Wednesday] and a crystal ball might tell me after that.
Altrincham College, an academy-run school in Trafford has also been confirmed as having RAAC concrete. More than 100 schools are closed or partially closed, in a disaster for children
Construction workers appeared to be on scaffolding dismantling bricks from a chimney at Sale Grammar School today as the concrete crisis gripped schools
Problems at Cleve Park in Sidcup means that portaloos are needed for students returning this week
‘I can feel my anxiety rising. Lucy is missing her friends and just wants to be back. I am stressed with the not knowing. I am so worried that if Lucy isn’t back in face-to-face education soon, my hospital appointments may have to be cancelled and moved, which is going to have a knock-on effect on my health.’
Jill Simpson, 51, received an email on Friday advising her that St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham would not be reopening as planned and teaching would be done online for the foreseeable future. Ms Simpson, whose child is starting Year 10, said: ‘My daughter’s grades are slipping due to loss of school and teachers’ strikes and Covid, so we now have to get a private tutor for maths for her to start with to bump her grades back up’.
Tori Hamblin, from Hadleigh, Suffolk, fears she may have to quit her job as a HR manager in the care industry if online learning returns for as long as feared.
Her eight-year-old Phoebe is now not in school this week but her mother fears it could be months.
She told The Times: ‘As a parent I feel really sad. My daughter’s last two school years at primary were affected by Covid then we had teachers’ strikes, and now this. I am worried. Her education could really suffer from this.
‘I do have to be in the office sometimes. So it’s not ideal — I’d be at risk of losing my job. I wouldn’t have a choice. It’s just a massive headache’.
Tens of thousands of children are heading back to classrooms in England this week despite hundreds of schools still having no idea whether they will be teaching in unsafe buildings containing RAAC – a lightweight form of concrete used between the 1950s and 1990s. Some 1,500 schools have not returned surveys asking whether they have concerns about the concrete on their estates.
Exasperated Tories have branded Gillian Keegan as a ‘damning indictment’ of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet – after she said she’s doing ‘a f***ing good job’.
The Education Secretary was caught out by the ‘hot mic’ incident yesterday as she said others had ‘sat on their a***’ after an interview with ITV news – as Rishi Sunak was told to get a grip over the school concrete crisis.
It has emerged that Keegan was on holiday in Spain – where she reportedly owns properties in Madrid and Marbella – last week while the crisis unfolded.
Aides said that she was ‘working from home’ between August 25 and 31, when it was announced more than 100 schools would be closed, The Telegraph reported.
Exasperated Tories have branded Gillian Keegan as a ‘damning indictment’ of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet – after she said she’s doing ‘a f***ing good job’
MPs have now condemned both Keegan and the Prime Minister himself for failing to get a grip on the crisis.
One Tory MP told the newspaper: ‘The way she’s conducted herself – in particular in that ITV interview – shows she is selfish and shameless and not fit to stay in office.
‘It’s a damning indictment of Rishi Sunak and the people he has appointed to his Cabinet.’
Another added that they believed Ms Keegan had been ‘over-promoted’, while one more said she was on her last chance to keep her position in government.
The concrete crisis has meant scores of pupils began the school year by learning online in an echo of the huge disruption caused by the pandemic.
Teachers spent the weekend scrambling to erect tented classrooms and acquiring festival-style toilets in a bid to keep classrooms open. The closures left parents racing to find emergency childcare as they juggled remote learning with full-time work.
However, it has come to light that initial concerns were raised early last month, weeks before the last-minute panic before schools returned.
Ms Keegan came under fire for failing to appear on the airwaves over the weekend to address the issue, and instead released a bizarre video with a dance music soundtrack.
In a round of broadcast interviews yesterday, she admitted hundreds of schools could be affected by crumbling reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
But then in an extraordinary outburst, filmed as a TV camera repositioned for extra shots, she said: ‘Does anyone ever say, you know what, you’ve done a f****** good job because everyone else has sat on their a**e and done nothing? No signs of that, no?’
She said ITV journalist Daniel Hewitt, who conducted the interview, had been ‘pressing me quite hard’ and claimed he was ‘making out it was all my fault’.
In her apology, the Education Secretary refused to say who she believed had ‘sat on their a**e’. She added: ‘It was an off-the-cuff remark after the news interview had finished, or apparently after it had finished.
‘I would like to apologise for my choice language.’
In other developments on a chaotic day in Westminster:
- Mr Sunak insisted that 95 per cent of England’s schools were unaffected – leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be hit by the crisis;
- Labour’s Keir Starmer said ministers appeared to be trying to ‘pass the buck’ for the closures and said the situation was descending into farce;
- Union leaders wrote to Mrs Keegan demanding urgent answers on the RAAC ’emergency’ – including clarity over the funding and support for schools;
- The Labour-run Welsh Government said two schools on Anglesey that had been due to open for the autumn term today would be closed temporarily;
- The Scottish Government confirmed that RAAC had been discovered in 35 schools with local authorities in the process of checking other buildings;
- The Ministry of Justice is inspecting buildings built in the 1990s for RAAC after Harrow Crown Court was found to contain the material;
- The PM is facing yet another by-election after former Tory chief whip Chris Pincher lost an appeal against a lengthy Commons suspension over groping allegations.
Mr Sunak was dragged into the concrete crisis yesterday after a former top civil servant claimed the PM had failed to fully fund a programme to rebuild schools.
Jonathan Slater, ex-permanent secretary at the Department for Education, blamed the Prime Minister for halving the rebuilding budget while he was chancellor in 2021.
Mr Sunak insisted that 95 per cent of England’s schools were unaffected – leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be hit by the crisis;
Mr Sunak rubbished the claim, insisting: ‘Actually one of the first things I did as chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new ten-year school rebuilding programme for 500 schools. Now that equates to about 50 schools a year that will be refurbished or rebuilt. If you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done.’
The row follows a lacklustre summer which has riled many Tory MPs who fear the PM is not doing enough to win the next election.
They have grown frustrated by stubbornly poor poll ratings and misfiring campaigning events such as ‘small boats week’ – a plan to hail progress in tackling Channel crossings that soon unravelled.
A senior backbencher said: ‘The Government is spending all its time addressing problems and cock-ups from the past – that’s all the media we’re getting. It’s time to get on to the front foot and have a positive message, otherwise the floating voter will start firming up for Labour.’
Another ex-minister said that Mr Sunak was ‘showing he can’t cope and is not up to the job sadly’.
No 10 said Mr Sunak yesterday held a cross-government meeting with key departments affected by the concrete crisis – including education, health and justice. He is said to have made clear that parents should be given clarity and reassurance.
Ministers have also promised that a list of schools confirmed to have RAAC in their buildings will be published this week. The material was used for many public buildings between the 1950s and the mid-1990s and is prone to failure.
The collapse of Singlewell primary school in Gravesend, Kent, in 2018 sparked concerns over the concrete, which was dubbed ‘Aero-like’ by structural engineers.
But it was the collapse of a beam at a school once deemed to be safe during the summer that spurred action.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The Education Secretary took the cautious and proactive decision to change guidance on Raac and this week has chaired daily operational calls with ministers and senior officials in the department and virtually.’