Report last year revealed some school blocks were found to be at a “critical” state of disrepair
Seven education unions have written to the government demanding urgent action to ensure schools are structurally safe after an official report last year revealed many were on the verge of collapse.
The Department of Education admitted in its 2022 annual report that there is a risk of collapse of blocks in some schools which are at or approaching the end of their designed life expectancy.
The report said the risk level had been escalated from “critical, likely”, to “critical, very likely” as far back as July 2021, an admission which the unions said was “truly shocking”.
Research by the House of Commons Library calculates that overall capital spending on schools halved in real terms between 2009-10 and 2021-22, following replacement of the £55bn Labour Schools for the Future programme with the smaller Priority School Building Programme in 2011 by then education secretary Michael Gove.
It is believed that most of the buildings at risk were built between 1945 and 1970 using system build light frame techniques and reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, a material with low compressive strength compared to traditional concrete.
But officials admitted at a meeting of the department’s Programme of Talks this month to not knowing which specific buildings were of concern, according to the unions.
The joint letter, signed by Unite, Unison, NEU, Community, GMB, NASUWT and NAHT, called for the department to clarify what measures are being taken to ensure it has a full and accurate picture of the state of the English school estate.
Unite acting national officer Clare Keogh said it was “disgusting” that the government had neglected the issue to the extent that it does not know which buildings are unsafe.
“Children and school staff should not have to spend their days in buildings that are so dilapidated that some are at risk of collapsing,” she said, adding that the education department must take immediate action to ensure schools were safe.
GMB national health, safety and environment director Dan Shears said it was “truly appalling” revelation. “It’s no great surprise that schools are in poor condition – we have had a lost decade of under-investment – but to discover that schools are in danger of literally falling down is absolutely scandalous.
“In many ways the school system being at the point of actual collapse is the perfect metaphor for the current UK Government.
“The tragedy of the situation being that money which was wasted giving Tory donors inflated contracts for shoddy PPE could have been invested in bringing schools up to scratch.
“The money was found quickly enough during the early pandemic, and if collapsing schools aren’t an emergency, then what is?”
The letter also asked what measures are being taken to eradicate the risk of collapse, when the affected buildings will be made safe, whether local authorities were aware of the risk, and what additional capital funding will be provided to address the issues.
It comes after the government was accused of hiding the poor condition of English schools after abandoning the publication of its latest survey.
Ministers had promised to release the data at the end of last year but when approached by the Observer had given no new date for publication of the Building Conditions Survey and would not explain why its position had changed.
The last condition data collection, which ran between 2017 and 2019 and covered 22,031 schools estimated the total cost to fix capital estate defects in England’s schools would be £11.4bn.
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.