UK

Children prefer learning in temporary classrooms, Education Secretary claims

The latest Department for Education figures show that, as of September 14, 174 schools and colleges in England have been identified as having Raac on site (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)
The latest Department for Education figures show that, as of September 14, 174 schools and colleges in England have been identified as having Raac on site (Nicholas T Ansell/PA) The latest Department for Education figures show that, as of September 14, 174 schools and colleges in England have been identified as having Raac on site (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

Children prefer being taught in temporary buildings rather than classrooms, the Education Secretary said as she faced criticism about the concrete crisis.

Gillian Keegan made the claim about “high-quality” portable cabins as she updated MPs in the Commons on how the Government is handling the presence of collapse-risk reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) in schools.

The latest Department for Education (DfE) figures show that an additional 27 schools and colleges in England have been identified as having Raac on site.

The number stood at 147 as of August 30, but it has increased to 174 as of September 14.

Schools in England with confirmed reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete
Schools in England with confirmed reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (PA Graphics)

Nearly 250 temporary classrooms have been ordered by at least 29 schools in response to the Raac crisis – and 11 of those schools already have temporary classrooms in place, the DfE’s top official told MPs on Tuesday.

In response to a question on the provision of temporary classrooms as a result of the Raac crisis, Ms Keegan told the Commons: “I have been to a number of these schools and seen children and met children in the Portakabins, and in fact at the first school I went to the children were all petitioning me to stay in the Portakabin because they actually preferred it to the classroom.

“The Portakabins are very high quality and I would advise her to go and see some of the high-quality Portakabins that we have, and that is true.”

Scores of schools and colleges in England were told by the Government to fully or partly close their buildings just days before the start of the autumn term amid concerns about collapse-prone Raac.

The updated DfE list suggests 24 education settings – as of Thursday last week – are offering some remote learning because Raac was found.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said her department is taking a cautious approach (James Manning/PA)

One secondary school in east London – Stepney All Saints Church of England Secondary School – has had to switch to remote learning for all students because of Raac, according to the DfE list.

An additional 23 schools are providing a mix of face-to-face lessons and remote learning to pupils as Raac is present in their buildings.

On Tuesday, school system minister Baroness Barran and the DfE’s top official, permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood, were questioned by MPs on the Education Select Committee.

Ms Acland-Hood could not say how many temporary classrooms, which have been provided by both the department and local responsible bodies, are being used at the affected schools.

But she told the MPs that a total of 248 mobile classrooms have been ordered in response to the situation, as well as toilets – and 11 schools are already operating with temporary classrooms.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The Education Secretary should be reflecting on why children prefer temporary accommodation. Much of the school estate is outdated and should have been refurbished or rebuilt many years ago.”

She added: “Temporary accommodation is just that – temporary. Children should be learning in classrooms which are modern, in good repair and permanent.”

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the Raac crisis has been a “colossal shambles” as she called on Ms Keegan to take responsibility for “three weeks of chaos”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “We still need a real sense of a clear plan, not just to put short-term mitigation measures in place, but to properly repair or replace buildings so they are fit for purpose.

“Propping up ceilings with metal poles is clearly not a serious option in the medium or long term.”

He added: “This situation has been brought about by years of neglect and under-investment in the school estate.

“Too many schools have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair and the current crisis is just one symptom of a problem that has been long in the making.”

The DfE said 148 of the 174 education settings confirmed to have collapse-risk concrete are now offering full-time, face-to-face learning to all pupils.

Last year, the DfE issued a questionnaire to responsible bodies for all schools in England to ask them to identify whether they suspected they had Raac.

Responsible bodies have submitted responses to the questionnaire for 98.6% of schools with blocks built in the target era, the DfE has confirmed.