Around 700,000 children in England studying in schools requiring major refurbishment

A report has shown around 700,000 children in England are studying in schools requiring major rebuilding or refurbishment.

The National Audit Office’s report found that more than a third of English school buildings are past their estimated initial design life. These buildings can normally continue to be used, but are generally more expensive to maintain and, on average, have poorer energy efficiency leading to higher running costs.

The report said the Department for Education has assessed the possibility of a building collapse or failure causing death or injury as a ‘critical and very likely’ risk since summer 2021.

The report highlighted ongoing concerns with the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – a lightweight form of concrete prone to failure, used between the 1950s and mid-1990s. DfE has been considering the potential risk posed by RAAC since late 2018, following a school roof collapse.

DfE continues to build its understanding of where RAAC is used, including by collating questionnaire responses from schools, but does not currently have the information required to fully manage potential risks.

In May 2023, 6,300 (42%) of the schools on which DfE has chosen to focus had completed work to establish if it was present. At that point, through questionnaire responses and wider work, DfE identified RAAC may be present in 572 schools.

In May 2023, DfE announced that, where RAAC is present in schools, it would provide funding to ensure that it does not pose an immediate risk.

The report also found that DfE has collected better evidence on the condition of the whole estate. This included identifying 13, 800 system-built blocks – almost all containing asbestos. However, of these, around 3,600 may be more susceptible to deterioration.