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Unsafe school buildings in England pose risk to pupils, report says

National Audit Office cites issues around asbestos and use of lightweight concrete material.

A report examining the Department for Education’s (Dfe) objective around safe and well-maintained school buildings in England has revealed approximately 700,000 pupils are at risk from unsafe or aging properties.

The school estate incorporates 21,600 schools and 64,000 individual buildings, of which, 24,000 had passed their estimated initial design life – 60-80 years for non-system school-built buildings, and 30-40 years for system-built blocks.

Published by the National Audit Office, Condition of school buildings, highlighted the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a lightweight material used widely between 1950s and mid-1990s and is prone to collapse. In its surveys, Dfe identified 572 schools where RAAC might be present.

Ian Clements, Managing Director at Quadriga Health and Safety says the findings should serve as a reminder for those who oversee building maintenance. “Employers and those responsible for buildings need to ensure that they have established if RAAC is present and if it is are taking appropriate action to protect their staff and others.  Failure to do so would be a failure to meet basic health and safety obligations and not taking action could lead to a risk of Corporate and individual manslaughter prosecutions if a fatal incident took place.”

The report also revealed a safety risk from asbestos, identifying 13,800 system-built blocks containing asbestos, of which approximately 3,600 were potentially unstable. This month a report published by HSE found that 421 recent school inspections it carried out across England, Scotland and Wales, a small number (7%) had “significant failings” in their asbestos management arrangements which required enforcement action to address them.

While the Government does not have to respond to the report, it will be used as evidence in an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the state of schools.

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