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Two Yorkshire schools could have temporary portakabins for two years due to RAAC discovery

Portakabin at Crossflatts Primary School in Bradford (Photo: LDRS)
Portakabin at Crossflatts Primary School in Bradford (Photo: LDRS)

In August, it was announced that sections of Crossflatts Primary School and Eldwick Primary School, in Bradford, would be off limits to staff and pupils after the discovery of RAAC concrete.

More details of the immediate future of these school buildings have been revealed. Temporary classrooms may be needed for an “expected period of 104 weeks” while the RAAC situation is resolved.

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) hit the headlines just before the end of the school holidays, when it was revealed schools across the country that had been built using the material needed upgrading.

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete and was used in the construction of schools, colleges and other public buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. It is different from traditional concrete and because of the way in which it was made is much weaker. The estimated duration of RAAC is around 30 years and so much of the construction that used this material is past its life span and at risk of collapse.

A review of Bradford Council-run schools where the material is present flagged up Eldwick and Crossflatts as having RAAC just before pupils returned after the summer holidays. To allow the schools to continue operating, temporary Portakabin classrooms were installed on school grounds at both sites.

Now retrospective planning applications have now been submitted to allow the schools to keep these temporary classrooms for two years while repairs are made to the school buildings. The applicant behind the plans is the Department for Education.

The application for Crossflatts Primary says: “Following survey works, 10 classrooms are deemed critically unsafe and cannot be occupied. The school has therefore lost access a large proportion of their existing school facilities. Circa 300 students are impacted by the RAAC related closure at the school.

“Put to full use the school has no alternative accommodation to decant, nor is it possible to seek off site provision due to timetabling requirements. In order to maintain education continuity to its pupils and staff it is imperative temporary decant accommodation is installed by way of the two storey Portakabin building forming this scheme.

“Therefore, the proposed Portakabin building forming this scheme will provide a quality temporary facility whilst remediation works are completed. We seek approval up to two years, after this time students and staff will return to the school buildings and the Portakabin building removed from site.”

The Eldwick application is very similar – again 10 classrooms are not useable until the RAAC issue is fixed, impacting 300 pupils. A decision on the two applications is expected early in the New Year.

Last week a report by the Public Accounts Committee slammed the Government’s response to the RAAC schools crisis.

It said: “it is extremely concerning that DfE does not have a good enough understanding of safety risks across school buildings for it to fully quantify and mitigate these risks and keep children and staff in schools safe.

“This includes an understanding of how reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which may lead to a sudden building collapse, has been used alongside asbestos, which we have raised as a concern for several years.

“Given how crucial it is to get safety matters right, it is shocking and disappointing that, at the time of our evidence session in September 2023, DfE could not provide basic information on, for example, how many specialist surveys to identify RAAC were outstanding, or how many temporary classrooms had been provided to schools affected by RAAC.

“Nor could it provide a clear and firm commitment on when RAAC issues would be addressed.

“It is encouraging to see that, alongside its annual maintenance and repair funding of £1.8 billion in 2022–23, DfE has packages of work to help address some of the most serious building issues, including a plan for refurbishment and rebuilding in 500 schools over 10 years.

“However, this work only touches the surface of problems across the school estate. DfE must do more to mitigate critical safety and value for money concerns, and then demonstrate that it has clear plans to address the scale of challenge and uncertainty it faces in the coming years.”