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Risk of Injury or Death From a School Building Collapse “Very Likely”

28 June 2023

The National Audit Office says that an estimated 700,000 children in England are studying in schools that need major rebuilding or refurbishment work.

Over a third (24,000) of English school buildings are past their estimated initial design life and the possibility of a building collapse or failure causing death or injury has been a “critical and very likely” risk since summer 2021. 

A separate report into sustainability found that The Department for Education (DfE) was yet to set a target to reduce direct emissions throughout the estate, despite being responsible for 37 per cent of emissions from public sector buildings.


“Significant Funding Shortfall”


The DfE calculates that £7 billion a year is needed as a best practice level to maintain, repair and rebuild the school estate. In 2020, it recommended funding of £5.3 billion a year to mitigate the most serious risks of building failure.

However, the department was only allocated an average of £3.1 billion a year, which includes funding to rebuild 500 schools over a ten-year programme. The report said that the DfE is making “slower than initially expected progress awarding contracts”.

Between 2016 and 2022, DfE spent an average of £2.3 billion a year.

Steve McGregor, Group Managing Director at DMA Group, a property maintenance specialist which works across the education space said: “The senior leadership teams across schools have shouldered immense, yet routine pressures in trying to reconcile the financial and operational challenges of delivering education in a cost-down environment. Compounded by the unprecedented cost-of-living and energy cost crisis these establishments are scrambling by cutting costs wherever possible, to the detriment of their buildings. Now it’s catching up.

“Purchasing lesser standard of parts will save money initially, but the increases in running, maintenance and replacement costs over the longer term will be a false economy. Buying the wrong or lesser quality kit will cost more, or even worse damage a premises, risk the health and wellness of its occupants, not to mention the reliability of the building.”


Concern With Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC)


Much like the UK’s healthcare estate, many schools were built using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a lightweight type of concrete with a limited lifespan. RAAC panels have low compressive strength, around 10-20 per cent of traditional concrete, reducing the shear and bending strength. It’s also very porous and highly permeable, so steel reinforcement within the panels is less protected against rusting than steel reinforcement in traditional concrete. 

The DfE has identified that RAAC may be present in 572 schools.

Picture: a photograph of a person sitting at a desk using coloured pencils. Image Credit: Pixabay

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 28 June 2023


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