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UK School Closures Due to Unsafe Concrete Spark Concerns for Students and Parents

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Parents Face Uncertainty as UK Schools Close Due to Unsafe Concrete

Thousands of parents in the UK are facing uncertainty as schools across the country are forced to close due to concerns about unsafe concrete in their buildings. The closures have left many children without a place to go, disrupting their education and causing significant challenges for working parents.

One such parent is Helen Burness, whose nine-year-old daughter, Marigold, attends a specialist speech and language school for children with complex learning needs. Marigold had been eagerly anticipating the start of the new school year, but her excitement quickly turned to disappointment when her school announced its closure just 24 hours before classes were scheduled to begin.

“It’s been kind of in free fall, really,” said Ms Burness, describing the uncertainty and frustration she has experienced. “And how much longer will it be?”

The closures are due to concerns surrounding reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a lightweight material commonly used in the construction of buildings in Britain between the 1950s and mid-1990s. RAAC has a life span of about 30 years and has been known to pose risks of sudden collapse.

Worries about the material have existed for decades, with structural engineers raising concerns as early as 1995. In 2018, a school roof collapsed in Kent, further highlighting the dangers associated with RAAC. A safety alert issued in 2019 recommended the replacement of all RAAC planks installed before 1980, and a government agency reiterated the need for action in 2021, stating that “RAAC is now life-expired and liable to collapse.”

Despite these warnings, it has become apparent that senior government officials ignored the risks associated with RAAC. A former Department for Education official has accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of refusing to allocate funds for school repairs, despite being informed of the “critical risk to life.” Sunak has vehemently denied these allegations, stating that it is “completely and utterly wrong” to hold him responsible for the funding shortfall.

The closure of more than 100 schools due to RAAC has affected approximately 10,000 students, leading to disrupted learning and a return to remote or hybrid learning models reminiscent of pandemic lockdowns. Working parents, such as Ms Burness and her husband, who run their own businesses, have been left juggling parenting duties and their jobs, struggling to find suitable childcare at short notice.

The Conservative government has faced significant criticism for its handling of the situation, with many questioning why the warnings about RAAC were not heeded earlier. The closures have highlighted the need for urgent action and adequate funding to address the crumbling infrastructure in the UK’s schools.

As parents and students anxiously await the reopening of their schools, the focus remains on ensuring the safety and well-being of children, while holding government officials accountable for their negligence in addressing this critical issue.

More detail via The Straits Times here… ( Image via The Straits Times )

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