Nurseries: Buildings

Department for Education written question – answered on 16 October 2023.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether she has plans to assess maintained nurseries for risks associated with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education)

Nothing is more important than the safety of children and staff, and it has always been the case that where the Department is made aware a building may pose an immediate risk, immediate action is taken. The Department knows how important it is for young people to be in classrooms with their friends and teachers, but their safety must come first.

The Department has been talking to schools about the potential risks of RAAC since 2018 when it first published a warning note with the Local Government Association. The Office of Government Property wrote to all Government Property Leaders in 2019, and again in September 2022, highlighting safety alerts on RAAC and signposting guidance on identification and remediation. The Government also created a cross-Government working group on RAAC this year to collectively address the issue. Since then, Departments have been surveying properties and depending on the assessment of the RAAC, decided to either continue or monitor the structure, reinforce it, or replace it. This is in line with the approach recommended by the Institution of Structural Engineers.

The Department discovered details of three new cases over the summer, where RAAC that would have been graded as non-critical had failed. The first of these was in a commercial setting. The second was in a school in a different educational jurisdiction. It was right to carefully consider the cases and scrutinise the technical details from these. Departmental technical officials were able to investigate the situation in one case where the plank that had failed was fully intact as it was resting on a steel beam after it failed. They concluded that it would previously been rated non-critical. Ministers were carefully considering the first two cases and advice from officials when a third failure of a panel occurred, at a school in late August. The Department’s technical officials also visited this school to investigate the failure.

In light of all three cases, it was right to make the difficult decision to change our guidance for education settings and take a more cautious approach within the education estate in England.

Following careful analysis of these recent cases, a precautionary and proactive step has been taken to change the approach to RAAC in education settings ahead of the start of the academic year, as outlined in our guidance.

Maintained nursery schools are treated the same as schools and FE colleges. In 2022, the Department’s questionnaire to all responsible bodies, including those who run maintained nursery schools, asked them to provide information on RAAC.

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