Northern Ireland

Belfast primary school classrooms deemed unsafe after Raac identified

A school road sign (Mike Egerton/PA)
A school road sign (Mike Egerton/PA)

A number of classrooms at a Belfast school have been declared unsafe following the identification of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

It was confirmed in an eight-classroom block at Cairnshill Primary School in the south of the city.

The Department of Education said engineers have confirmed that the block is unsafe for continued use.

It said steps have been taken to close the classrooms affected and the rest of the building remains safe to use for staff and pupils.

The department’s permanent secretary, Dr Mark Browne, said remedial work is taking place.

“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.”

RAAC, a lightweight, “bubbly” form of concrete commonly used in construction between the 1950s and mid-1990s, has been identified in a number of buildings in England and Scotland.

In September, Northern Ireland’s Department of Education commissioned the Education Authority to carry out structural surveys to ascertain whether RAAC was present within schools in the region.

The EA’s maintenance service has been carrying this work out.

South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said the discovery of RAAC at Cairnshill Primary School will cause concern, but said that “every precaution is now being taken to prioritise the safety of children, teachers, staff and parents”.

“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.

“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.”