The dilapidation across the UK’s school estate is not a new topic of conversation, but the call to close more than 150 schools just days before the start of the academic year due to concerns around crumbling reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) has made it front page news. Here, Josh Mitchell, Director for Sypro Risk Manager, discusses the need to support schools with implementing systems that manage and remove risk across estates, thereby avoiding the widespread stress and disruption now being felt up and down the country.
Risk needs to be assessed across all estates, but where can it be more relevant than the schools we send our children to?
It’s hard to know the full scope of the problem being faced. There are 156 confirmed cases of RAAC in schools, but with not all having undertaken surveys this number is expected to by higher. With more than 24,000 schools across England alone, and some 1,500 of those having not returned surveys, the scale of potential challenge is clear.
It is not a case that the risks of life expired RAAC had only just been discovered – they have been a talking point for several years and the Local Government Association has been calling for a national RAAC taskforce for five years. Indeed, £2.5 billion in funding was allocated earlier this year for building upgrades following comments from unions across deteriorating school buildings being at risk of collapse. The sudden action to call for closures days before the start of the academic year have been taken due to a number of cases where RAAC failed with no notice – posing clear and potentially deadly risk to pupils, staff and visitors.
Recently, an educational trust has been fined after 15 school children and their teacher were injured by a classroom ceiling collapse during a lesson in 2021. In this case, the collapse was due to overloading the non-load bearing attic above the classroom, and thankfully there were only minor injuries, but it shows the stark reality of the risks being faced – and what can happen if the right processes are not in place and action is not taken.
Impact on schools across the UK
Not every school will need to entirely close, but repair works in many cases could take years before a complete return to normal. However, even in settings where RAAC only impacts a few spaces, it’s not a simple case of moving pupils to another classroom or building – the logistics remain complicated.
Every school will have to examine its unique position and options. The DfE has stated that funding will be made available where RAAC is identified for essential works to remove immediate risk, and for the provision of temporary buildings where necessary.
Even so, it’s likely additional costs will crop up for schools. For example, one headteacher interviewed by Radio 4 detailed that moving pupils to a different building was an option for their case when a number of classrooms were closed earlier this year due to RAAC risk. However, that building only had adult bathrooms, so an additional expenditure was required for children’s bathroom provision totalling somewhere in the £30,000 region.
The ultimate result? Disruption to children’s education. Stress on staff and parents. Additional drain on budgets that are already stretched.
Future proofing against RAAC
The impact of RAAC is now being felt, but it serves to unearth further risks within the education estate. For example, the repair work required poses a very real risk of causing a re-emergence of a long-resolved issue – asbestos. Despite the materials being banned altogether in the late 1990s, it is still present in at least 300,000 non-domestic buildings. While it is yet to be confirmed if any of the RAAC-impacted schools hold this particular risk regarding asbestos, it goes to show the things that could be unearthed within aging buildings.
Using software to managing against the risk of RAAC
So, as we tackle those challenges we must also think about futureproofing against other potential risks. Any system that would allow an organisation to not only see their assets, but also monitor and manage potential and emerging risks will be incredibly powerful in keeping the country’s buildings in top condition.
They hold the key to avoiding dilapidation, managing risk and ensuring compliance. With continued shortfall in education budgets and in light of the huge impact being felt from this round of closures, there needs to be a consideration from government for supporting schools in getting such systems in place.
Digitisation can support schools estates teams to manage both planned and reactive maintenance by dealing with issues as they arise. This means smaller issues that can be dealt with in-house don’t spiral to an unmanageable point – and certainly don’t reach the severity point where schools need to close.
Software exists to make things quicker and easier. Automating many elements of risk management – such as incident reporting and reactive actions, and regular maintenance tasks – does just this for users. Ultimately, this saves all-important time and would serve towards avoiding another instance of widespread disruption and allows schools to continue focusing their time, efforts and budgets on what they are meant to – providing education in a safe setting for our children.
Let us help you to manage RAAC
If you would like more information on how our Risk Manager software can help your organisation to manage the risk of RAAC and more, request a free demo or contact us on 01482 765601 and email@example.com.