Members of the House of Lords have called for more urgency to remediate school buildings at risk of collapse.
In December, the Department for Education (DfE) warned that the prospect of a school-building collapse was “very likely”. It raised the possibility of school buildings collapsing to “critical”.
The department warned that the risk was mainly in schools built between 1945 and 1970 that used ‘system build’ light-frame techniques. That partly corresponds to schools that have roofs made of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, a material used regularly in the years after the Second World War that is weaker than traditional concrete and was only expected to have a 30-year lifespan.
Members of the House of Lords questioned the government’s approach to the situation during a session this week. Labour’s Baroness Jennifer Chapman raised that the government has tried to identify how many hospitals have the material, and asked: “If it is the right thing to do for hospitals, why is it not the right thing to do soon, quickly or now for schools?”
DfE undersecretary of state Baroness Diana Barran said there were examples of aerated concrete that has “been properly maintained and does not pose a risk”. She added that although the department was looking to identify all of the buildings that have the material on them, not all schools that are thought to have aerated concrete actually do in the end.
“I absolutely assure the House that where we identify any building material that poses a risk to children and staff, we act immediately,” she added.
Labour’s Lord Mike Watson said that between 2010 and 2022, there had been “a 25 per cent decrease in cash terms in schools’ capital spend” in the UK. He added that this meant the government may not have enough funds to act on the issue in schools.
Baroness Barran said the government had been “proactive” in engaging with schools to understand which have structural issues that need solving.
In December, the government announced funding for renovation of 239 schools, on top of the 161 schools announced back in 2021. The DfE said that works were “nearing completion” at some of the 161 schools, and that funding had now been made available to 80 per cent of the schools that need work done to them.