Pressure on Gillian Keegan mounts over crumbling concrete in schools

Pressure on Gillian Keegan mounts over crumbling concrete in schools

Rishi Sunak and Gillian Keegan are under growing pressure over the crumbling concrete closing schools, as the Education Secretary was forced to apologise after claiming others had failed to tackle the crisis in a sweary outburst.

In criticism caught on camera after an interview on Monday, a frustrated Ms Keegan hit out at those who she argued had “sat on their arse and done nothing”.

She also questioned why no one was saying “you’ve done a f****** good job”, before being forced to go before broadcasters to apologise for the language she used.

Ms Keegan went on to admit to being on holiday in Spain in the run up to ordering more than 100 schools and colleges in England to make complete or partial closures.

She will face her Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday morning as the Prime Minister assembles his top team for their first meeting since returning from the Commons’ long summer break.

Ministers have been accused of taking a “sticking plaster approach” to essential maintenance by the head of the Whitehall spending watchdog.

Writing in the Times, National Audit Office chief Gareth Davies suggested that there had not been sufficient focus on “unflashy but essential tasks” such as maintaining public buildings that have faced “underinvestment”.

On Monday, the Prime Minister admitted hundreds more schools could be affected by the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) issue.

He insisted that 95% of England’s schools were unaffected, leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be impacted by the collapse-risk material.

Downing Street said the total number was expected to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

Mr Sunak was also accused by a former top official at the Department for Education (DfE) of having declined a request for funding to rebuild more schools while he was chancellor.

Meanwhile, Ms Keegan promised MPs that a list of schools with confirmed Raac will be published “this week”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman rebuked the Education Secretary, saying the language she was caught on camera using “obviously is not acceptable”.

While still on camera in the seconds after an interview with ITV News, Ms Keegan had said: “Does anyone ever say, you know what, you’ve done a f****** good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing?

“No signs of that, no?”

In a follow-up interview, Ms Keegan apologised for her “choice language” and said it was an “off-the-cuff remark”.

She insisted her criticism, which could have been interpreted as being targeted at Conservative colleagues, was about “nobody in particular”.

Mr Sunak was satisfied with her apology and continued to support her as Education Secretary, his spokesman said.

Aides later admitted that Ms Keegan was holidaying with family in Spain in the six days before announcing the closures to schools on Thursday.

She defended the trip, saying she continued to chair a response team while on the continent for her father’s birthday – and always planned to come back if investigations raised concerns.

“I came back straight away – well actually I had to wait a day because of the air traffic control issue,” she added to Sky’s Politics Hub.

Pupils face being taught in temporary classrooms, on different sites or even forced into pandemic-style remote lessons under the guidance issued as children prepared to return from the summer break.

Mr Sunak was accused on Monday of refusing to fully fund a programme to rebuild England’s crumbling schools when he was chancellor by Jonathan Slater, who was permanent secretary at the DfE between 2016 and 2020.

The former official told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that up to 400 schools a year needed to be replaced but that funding was given for 100 – arguing that Mr Sunak took the decision to “halve the size of the programme”.

But Mr Sunak told reporters Mr Slater’s attack on his record was “completely and utterly wrong”.

Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also being assessed for Raac.

The Scottish Government has said it is present in 35 schools, but that none poses an “immediate risk” to pupil safety.

The Welsh Government said two schools on Anglesey which had been due to open for the autumn term on Tuesday would be closed temporarily.