Education secretary orders school leaders to ‘get off their backsides’ to sort crumbling concrete surveys

Gillian Keegan said one in 20 schools is yet to complete a questionnaire sent out last year and called on leaders to respond quickly

Archie Mitchell
Tuesday 05 September 2023 17:29 BST
Hot mic records Gillian Keegan saying others ‘have been sat on their a***s’ amid schools Raac crisis

The education secretary has ordered school leaders to “get off their backsides” to complete surveys into whether their buildings contain dangerous crumbling concrete.

Gillian Keegan said one in 20 schools is yet to complete a questionnaire sent out last year and called on leaders to respond quickly as the crisis deepens.

The Department for Education (DfE) sent surveys to the bodies responsible for school buildings - including trusts and city councils - to discover whether their buildings contained reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), following the 2018 collapse of a school ceiling. RAAC is a potentially dangerous material used to construct schools, colleges, and other buildings between the Fifties and mid-Seventies in the UK.

The lightweight form of concrete has been described as “80 per cent air” and “like an Aero Bar” and its presence in schools prompted the closure of more than 100 days before the start of the new school year.

Speaking to Jeremy Vine on Tuesday, Ms Keegan said: “There is 5 per cent of schools that have not responded to the survey.

“Now, hopefully, all this publicity will make them get off their backsides.

“What I would like them to do is to respond because I want to be the secretary of state that knows exactly in every school where there is RAAC and takes action.”

The education secretary’s comments came a day after she was forced to apologise for a sweary rant in which she accused colleagues of having “sat on their a***” over collapsing schools.

Gillian Keegan was filmed voicing her frustrations about the response to the Raac concrete scandal after it emerged that Mr Sunak had cut funding for school rebuilding when he was chancellor.

In footage released by ITV News Ms Keegan – still wearing her microphone – criticised others and said she should be praised for doing a “good job”.

She said: “Does anyone ever say ‘you know what, you’ve done a f****** good job because everyone else has sat on their a*** and done nothing?”

The education secretary added: “No signs of that, no?”

After her latest outburst on Tuesday, unions roudned on the education secretary.

National Education Union (NEU) boss Daniel Kebede said Ms Keegan’s comments were “outrageous”.

“The fact is that the DfE has dragged its heels over many years on this issue,” Mr Kebede said.

The NEU criticised the Tories for repealing a programme designed to address concerns such as RAAC, the Building Schools for the Future and the Primary Capital Programmes.

Mr Kebede said: “If those projects had not been cancelled, we would not be having this crisis today. Rishi Sunak has consistently underfunded school buildings repair.

“The Government has failed to show leadership on this issue for very many years.”

And Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, accused Ms Keegan of “shifting the blame” to “deflect from the government’s significant failings”.

Mr Whiteman said: “The facts are clear: the current crumbling school estate is the direct result of ministerial decisions to slash capital budgets.”

He pointed out that ministers have known for “many years” about the risks of RAAC, but only recently sent out the surveys.

And he said despite a series of warnings, the government was not willing to pay for the rebuilding projects that were needed.

“The responsibility for this situation sits squarely on the government’s shoulders and no amount of deflection and distraction will change that,” he said.

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