Essex parents ‘deserve answers over school closures’ ahead of new …
Parents 'deserve answers' over potentially dangerous concrete in schools across Essex, a group of councillors have said. Labour councillors at Essex County Council have written letters calling for answers following the discovery of potentially dangerous concrete. 65 schools in Essex are thought to contain reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), with the county considered the worst affected area in the country.
In letters sent to both Essex County Council's (ECC) Cabinet member for Education, Tony Ball, and Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education, the Essex Labour Group said parents across the county deserve answers. Both were signed by Cllr Ivan Henderson (Group Leader), Cllr Lee Scordis (Dep Group Leader), Cllr Dave Harris, Cllr Aidan McGurran and Cllr Pat Reid.
The letter to Councillor Tony Ball, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Education Excellence, Lifelong Learning and Employability, said: “With just days to go before the start of the new term parents have got enough to worry about without having to find out if their child’s school is safe. It is staggering that ministers have waited until now to act on this issue, and it is appalling that thousands of children face chaos and disruption to their education because they cannot start at their own school next week.
“In 2018 a report was released warning of these concrete concerns. In 2010 the Conservative Government scrapped Labour’s Future School Programme.”
The letter went on to put four questions to Cllr Ball. The first asked if ECC reacted to the 2018 report by liaising with schools and finding out which would be affected.
The second question asked if the council has lobbied since 2018 the government to challenge these “urgent issues”. The third asks if any schools have contacted ECC about these concerns in the last few years.
The fourth question asks about which specific schools in Essex have been affected and why the issue is worse in Essex than in any other county. While this question remains unanswered, EssexLive has published a list of those that are confirmed to be closing, partially closing or delaying the start of term.
The second letter, addressed to Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan MP, said: “The fiasco created by your handling of the dangerous ‘crumbling concrete’ schools issue is a new low – even for this government.
“With just days to go before the start of the new term, parents have got enough to worry about without having to find out if their child’s school is safe. It is staggering that ministers have waited until now to act on this issue, and it is appalling that thousands of children face chaos and disruption to their education because they cannot start at their own school next week.”
This letter put three demands of its own to the Education Secretary. The first was for the government to immediately publish the full national list of schools involved so every parent can be sure whether their child is affected.
The second was for the government to provide a full explanation as to why it has taken until now to act, despite receiving warnings about this problem from the Local Government Association, Labour Councils, and the Labour Party several years ago.
The third was for the government to give a clear and unequivocal guarantee to parents in Essex that all schools, including academies, free schools, and nurseries, have been properly assessed and that children are not at risk.
Both letters ended with the councillors saying: "Parents across Essex deserve answers immediately. I trust you will provide them."
Councillor Ball released a statement earlier this week on the guidance issued around the concrete issue at schools. He said: “This guidance outlines that urgent action must be taken at any schools with known RAAC, unless a structural mitigation is already in place. If mitigations are not already in place, then buildings affected must not be used until the RAAC has been secured through a structural intervention. Surveys will also need to take place to ensure ongoing safety.
“We have communicated to all Essex schools and have been working quickly to establish schools affected by this new guidance. We understand that the vast majority of schools in Essex are not affected. The current information we have is that about 50 out of 550 schools in Essex have known RAAC. All these schools have been contacted. Many of these schools will be open for children to return from next week as expected."