No colleges have delayed the start of term due to dangerous “crumbly” concrete, their membership body has said as the RAAC crisis engulfs schools.
Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, also said there had been no “significant building closures” for colleges related to concerns around reinforced aerated autoclaved concrete (RAAC), although he is “certain” there will be a few cases where college buildings contain it.
It comes days after the government ordered 104 schools in England to stay closed for the beginning of term, as their buildings are at risk of collapse due to RAAC. It is understood officials learned over the summer of cases where buildings with RAAC collapsed, despite not showing any signs of deterioration.
The concrete was widely used as a lighter alternative to standard concrete between the 1950s and 1980s, but studies have since found the material can become destabilised after installation.
The government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the presence of RAAC, a problem it has known about for years.
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said today that 1,500 schools are yet to complete checks to see if RAAC is in their buildings, meaning the number of schools at risk could be even higher than previously thought.
She committed to publishing a list of the schools and other education providers which have been ordered to close this week.
Gravatt said so far there are “no cases where this has required a significant [general FE college] building closure or a delay to the start of term”, though he admitted the AoC is “certain” RAAC will be present in some cases.
“It can be quite hard to locate RAAC in a building because it is sometimes hidden by cladding but colleges have a good track record in managing their buildings.” He said more than 90 per cent of all colleges had returned RAAC questionnaires to the government this year.
FE Week is aware of at least three colleges where RAAC was found and had to be remediated this year. Some of those were forced to partially close buildings due to the level of risk of collapse, although it is not clear whether those buildings have now been opened.
In an extraordinary intervention this morning, former permanent secretary of the Department for Education Jonathan Slater claimed the government prioritised new free schools over pupil safety and that prime minister Rishi Sunak slashed school rebuilding funding despite knowing about the dangers of RAAC.
Slater said his department had found between 300 and 400 schools had to be rebuilt each year, and that it had put together a plan to double the number of rebuilds to 200 at the 2021 spending review.
However, the government then went ahead with a rebuilding programme of just 50 schools a year, when Sunak was chancellor. Sunak has since denied that was the case.
Also earlier today the education secretary accused others of having “sat on their arse” over the RAAC crisis in schools, and expressed frustration at a lack of gratitude that she had been doing a “f***ing good job”.
Gillian Keegan was still on microphone when she made the comments shortly after an interview with ITV News, which has since circulated the clip on social media.
With the cameras still running, Keegan asked her interviewer: “Does anyone ever say, you know what, you’ve done a f***ing good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing? No signs of that? No?”
In a subsequent interview, Keegan said she “wasn’t really talking about anyone in particular”, and apologised for using “choice” language.