Children prefer Portakabins to classrooms at some schools, the Education Secretary has claimed.
Gillian Keegan made the claim about “high quality” temporary accommodation as she updated MPs in the Commons on how the Government is handling the presence of dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) in schools.
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 MPs were told on Tuesday.
In response to a question on the provision of temporary classrooms, Ms Keegan said: “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.”
When heckled by Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, she added: “The Portakabins are very high quality and I would advise her to go and see some of the high quality Portakabins that we have.”
Unions criticised the Education Secretary. Responding on social media, Daniel Kebede, the general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “And what dire … state of repair must the school be in if a portacabin [sic] is better? Our children deserve better.”
Downing Street defended Ms Keegan after her remarks. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Education Secretary was “reflecting a conversation” she had with children and Rishi Sunak still had full confidence in her.
Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, 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 Much of the school estate is outdated and should have been refurbished or rebuilt many years ago.
“Temporary accommodation is just that – temporary. Children should be learning in classrooms which are modern, in good repair and permanent.”
Paul Whiteman, the 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.
“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 concrete that is at risk of collapse are now offering full-time, face-to-face learning to all pupils.