Northern Ireland

Belfast primary school block closed after confirmation of 'crumbling' concrete in roof

Cairnshill Primary School in south Belfast, where the confirmation of RAAC has led to the closure of eight classrooms. Picture: Mal McCann
Cairnshill Primary School in south Belfast, where the confirmation of RAAC has led to the closure of eight classrooms. Picture: Mal McCann

CLASSROOMS in a south Belfast primary school have been closed following the discovery of a "crumbling" concrete that has caused chaos for schools in Britain and led to fears that buildings are unsafe.

Stormont's Department of Education confirmed that reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) has been found in the roof of a two-storey block at Cairnshill PS, close to Saintfield Road.

Eight classrooms in the block have been closed after engineers confirmed they are "unsafe for continued use", though the rest of the school building is safe, the department said.

The confirmation of RAAD in 147 schools in England earlier this year led to delays in pupils at 19 of the affected schools returning for the new term.

Four of the worst-affected schools returned to remote learning, and the UK education secretary was criticised for her response to the crisis, while unions representing teachers and school workers have demanded the British government provide an extra £4.4 billion to ensure buildings remain safe for learning.

The lightweight aerated concrete can weaken when exposed to moisture, and has a lifespan of around 30 years.

In 2018, the roof of a staff room at a school in Kent collapsed during the night. The block had been rebuilt following a fire in the late 1970s using RAAC.

Read more: 

  • DfE's lack of information on schools concrete crisis ‘shocking', says MPs
  • 40 more schools and colleges found to have collapse-risk concrete
  • Parents dismayed by exam decision at Raac-affected school

South Belfast SDLP MP Claire Hanna said the discovery of RAAC at Cairnshilll PS will "cause concern among the school community".

"I have been in touch with the school leadership and the Education Authority and I am confident that their initial response has been guided by the singular priority of keeping children and school users safe," she said.

“This is an evolving situation and in order to protect the wellbeing of children, teachers and other staff, eight classrooms have been closed and evacuated as a precaution. This is exactly the right approach as we learn more about the risks to these sites. I will continue to liaise with the school and the Education Authority as more information becomes available and a plan is put in place to manage this situation. 

The MP added: “We need to deal with this at pace to ensure that there is minimal interruption to the education of these kids. There will undoubtedly be disruption to the lives and schedules of everyone involved. I would appeal to all those affected to work with the school and with the rest of us - we all want this to be dealt with safely and swiftly in the interests of children, parents and staff."

Department of Education permanent secretary Dr Mark Browne visited the school on Wednesday to speak with staff and address concerns.

“The safety of our teachers, staff and pupils in our schools is our highest priority. We fully understand that this news will be concerning for staff, parents/carers and the wider school community," he said.

“The department and the Education Authority are working closely with the school to ensure those classes affected can return as early as possible next week.

“The department will provide funding for all remedial works required and we are committed to ensuring that there will be as little as disruption as possible for the school and parents.”