Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has called on academy trusts and councils to participate in a survey on Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (Raac) in schools, expressing frustration at the lack of response from 5% of responsible bodies, and hopes that increased publicity will encourage these bodies to take action.
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Department for Education Issues Urgent Alert on Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in Schools
The Department for Education (DfE) has issued an urgent alert about the potential risks of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in schools across England.
Over 100 schools in England have been ordered to partially or fully close due to safety concerns surrounding the concrete used in their construction.
More than 100 schools across England and Wales have been ordered to either fully or partially close due to the risk of collapse from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).
Safety Concerns Surround Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in Schools and Public Buildings
Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a commonly used material in schools and public buildings, has raised safety concerns due to its limited lifespan. The government has issued warnings and initiated surveys to assess the extent of RAAC usage and identify affected buildings. Closure of buildings with RAAC has been mandated, and immediate stabilization works are being funded. However, long-term funding and minimizing disruption to education remain challenges.
Willowbrook Mead primary academy in Leicester has been forced to close due to safety concerns.
Officials have contacted school leaders in England regarding the urgent issue of crumbling concrete in school buildings, leading the Department for Education (DfE) to instruct staff to assess the readiness of schools to evacuate buildings made with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) and plan for relocating students to alternative accommodations, raising concerns about the dangers of aging RAAC buildings and prompting criticism from the shadow education secretary and the Association of School and College Leaders.
A-level and Level 3 results for students who were in Year 10 when the Covid-19 pandemic began have been released, with grades determined based on teacher assessments due to the cancellation of exams, leading to a surge in top grades in 2020 and 2021; however, top A-level results in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have decreased for a second consecutive year, with 27.2% of all grades being an A* or A, and the decline in top grades being most pronounced in England, while Wales and Northern Ireland have taken a more gradual approach to reducing top grades, maintaining a higher percentage of top grades than England, and the decrease in top grades being less severe in these regions due to AS-levels being counted towards final grades and a phased return to 2019 levels; furthermore, there is a North-South divide in top grades, with regional differences growing since before the pandemic, and candidates from private schools receiving a higher percentage of top grades compared to those in academies, although the gap between private and state schools has narrowed since 2020 and 2021 but remains wider than in 2019; additionally, girls outperformed boys at the top A-level grades, but the gap has narrowed since the return of exams, and boys overtook girls in the percentage of A* grades this year; T-level and Level 3 BTec results have also been released, with an overall pass rate of 90.5% and 69.2% achieving a merit or above, and changes were made to prevent result delays seen in the previous year; moreover, the gap in top GCSE grades between students in London and those in the north-east of England is the largest on record, with over 28% of entries by students in London receiving grades 7 or higher compared to just under 18% in the north-east, and the gap in top grades between the two regions has widened to over 10 percentage points, the largest gap since the introduction of the numerical grading system in 2014, leading to criticism from school leaders in the north-east and claims from Labour that “levelling up is dead and buried”; attendance levels may be a contributing factor to the widening attainment gap, as London schools have the highest average weekly attendance while the north-east has the highest absence rates; overall grades across England fell as regulators returned to pre-pandemic grading standards, with top grades down over four percentage points from last year, and the three science subjects and Spanish saw slight decreases in pass rates and top grades compared to 2019; furthermore, the number of students failing to achieve passing grades of 4 or above increased this year, particularly in English, and boys in England performed better than girls, particularly in maths; England’s grading standards were more stringent than those in Wales and Northern Ireland, with top grades in England only slightly higher than 2019 levels, and the drop in pass rates has serious implications for students’ life chances, particularly for those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds; finally, boys’ performance in GCSEs narrowed the gap with girls compared to previous years, and Wales and Northern Ireland aimed to find a midway point between 2019 and last year’s grading approach, with the intention to return to a pre-pandemic approach by next year.
Three schools, including Sir Frederick Gibberd College and Haygrove School, have been ordered to close due to safety concerns, potentially causing disruption to parents and pupils, as technical reports have identified serious issues with the buildings constructed by Caledonian Modular, a company that went into administration in March 2022.
The recently released GCSE results have highlighted the resilience of students who faced disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but have also revealed growing educational inequalities, particularly in the north of England. Students in London received a significantly higher percentage of top grades compared to their counterparts in the north-east region, emphasizing regional differences in educational outcomes. The Conservative party’s rejection of an education recovery plan has raised concerns about the government’s commitment to addressing these issues, with potential far-reaching repercussions. The results also confirm significant learning loss, particularly among disadvantaged students, due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The widening gap in results between London and the rest of the country suggests a growing disparity between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Urgent action is needed to address the inequalities faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensure equal opportunities for all.