Schools: RAAC - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords am 3:35 pm ar 1 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 3:35, 1 Chwefror 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government how they plan to mitigate the safety risks of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in schools and to ensure the swift deployment of financial assistance for necessary maintenance and construction upgrades.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, as the Chamber empties, the first thing I should say on this debate is to remind everybody listening of what we are talking about: reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. It is a type of concrete of which I have heard some very picturesque descriptions—“a cement Aero bar” was my favourite. I am not quite sure what that confectionery has done to deserve comparison to this substance, but we are talking about a type of concrete that does not have aggregates in it, and thus is light, with its strength given by putting steel strips in it. It is used in things such as roofs and walls. In Britain, it is used very heavily in roofs. It is fine if it is kept dry and well-maintained. Unfortunately, it has been used in school roofs. Whatever you say about schools’ maintenance budgets, we can all agree that they have not been that great or consistent, and anybody who has ever owned a house knows that you cannot guarantee not to have leaks. We have in schools a substance which is porous, above your head and can collapse. This is not a good starting point.

The timeline for when trouble was first spotted is incredible. This issue was first raised in 1996. In 1999, the Standing Committee on Structural Safety maintained that we should be identifying it. We have had this problem a long time and we have not dealt with it. We waited until the situation got critical, when things started falling down, and then had to run around trying to do something about it. This is where we have got to. What has been the result? We have schools which are unsafe—when your classroom ceiling comes in, you cannot teach in it.

Here we come to the real nub of the matter: children’s education is affected. We find classrooms that are not fit for purpose and potentially dangerous, and we have to take remedial action. We can bandy around figures about just how many, but a few hundred schools are affected and tens of schools have actually been collapsing. In certain key cluster areas, the construction pattern of previous years has led to schools that do not work and pupils who are not being educated. Largely, they are the same pupils who have already had their school life disrupted by the Covid lockdown. This Chamber has talked often enough about not getting enough children into school. We have a historically high absentee rate. Across schools we have children who are not functioning in their classrooms, and we have this thrown in.

Then we see that the maintenance of schools has usually been something that people have wanted to put off for another day. We have not had the drive to make sure schools are maintained. We have not spotted the problem and now we have this nice little crisis coming down and pushing in. The Government’s response has been, “Oh, terrible! Let’s stop going in and let’s take money from somewhere else, roughly in the budget, and push it in here as a priority”. This effectively means that you are robbing Peter to pay Paul—moving money around within the school budget. So we are going to have other problems in other areas, and there are already other problems in the school infrastructure package—we know that.

One of the things that brought this issue to my attention was the “Panorama” programme showing temporary classrooms that were older than the teachers in them. I ask the Government this: if you are bringing in temporary structures, what is their life expectancy and where will that be reported? Before this debate, the Local Government Association came to me and said, in effect, “By the way, it has always been clear as mud as to where we have these problems”. Can we have some guarantee that we will take the information about where the problems have been identified and pass it on to those who will have to make the budgetary decisions? That is one of the things that we should do on the way through.

The second thing is that we simply must make sure that the schools that have this issue get the extra funding they need to deal with the situation now. If we strip the budget or move things around, we will create more problems across the piece. What is the Government’s attitude to making sure that funding goes directly to this problem now, and quickly? We have had emergency funding before, and okay, the figures will sound big. The Government will then tell us that we are spending more money than we have ever spent before. Last night, we had a debate about financial education. One of the things we did not mention was inflation. Inflation means that you will always spend more money on a project today than you did yesterday. Some of the figures I have received estimate that, in real terms, our budget has been consistently lower than at any time since around 2003.

What are we going to do to make sure that the immediate need is met? We have a situation where children who should be in a classroom and should be being taught are not. We then have extra costs being lumbered on people, such as for temporary accommodation and moving children around. They are not concentrating; it is going to be more difficult. Some will come through and some wonderful teachers will pick up the slack, but any system that says you have to be a little lucky and a bit special has a degree of failure in it; if you have to be very lucky and very special, it is a total failure.

Can the Minister tell us how the Government mean to mitigate this quickly and keep track of what they have done, so that we can come back in and make sure that temporary solutions are not becoming permanent ones? That is an important facet here. The temporary classroom that sits in the corner of a school estate should be gone in five or 10 years. It should not be waiting for its third refit.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My noble friend’s comment suggests that I am being hopelessly optimistic in my assessment there; I look forward to hearing from him later.

Can we have some guidance from the Government showing that they will make sure that the Treasury helps the department, because that is where the money comes from? The current Prime Minister has been Chancellor. If he did not give money in the past, it is time to give it now—or to encourage his friend in Downing Street to ensure that there is enough money to deal with this issue. Its oncosts are incredibly high, not just for the establishment but for pupils and teachers in particular. This is where we should concentrate. I hope that, when the Minister replies to this short debate, we will get an idea of how that will be achieved. If we just move money within the estate—an estate that needs more repairs—we will not achieve it. We might not even deal with the RAAC problem—it will have gone—but there will be other problems. It is important that we make sure that the school estate is in better condition and that those working in it can function properly. This is the least we owe our pupils.

I hope that the Government will have a positive response for me, and will tell me that they are going to punch through and make sure that the Treasury coughs up. I do not expect that but I hope for it. I beg to move.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Convenor of the Lords Spiritual 3:44, 1 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this debate on a subject that has already been raised in this House and is adversely affecting a significant minority of our schools. I pay tribute to those hard-pressed and sometimes overstressed heads, teachers, ancillary staff and pupils who are still having to cope with this on a daily basis; it really is having an effect on the ordinary running of some of our schools across our nation. I think, for example, of the staff and students of St Leonard’s Catholic School in County Durham, who have been extremely adversely affected by this crisis; the pupils are still being taught in temporary classrooms five months on. The DfE announced this week that it cannot make any exam dispensations for the GCSE and A-level students at this school, despite experts advising a 10% boost to grades to compensate for disruption to education.

Will the Minister consider carrying out an assessment to ascertain whether results at schools that have been adversely disrupted by the RAAC crisis are lower than those projected or expected at schools where education has not been disrupted—and, if results are shown to be considerably lower, to see it as a case for any regrading or adjusting of exams? I ask that we remember that exam results will shape the futures and the aspirations of these young people, and it would seem a great injustice to pupils from a handful of schools if they were severely disadvantaged simply because their school buildings were not fit for purpose. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have both called for the department to set date targets for the eradication of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in schools. Can the Minister confirm whether a target for the eradication of RAAC will be determined, as the Department for Health and Social Care has done for the NHS estate?

The Association of School and College Leaders has pointed out that parents are taking their children out of those schools that are affected by RAAC over concerns about disruption to their education and a lack of access to facilities such as science labs. Schools affected by the RAAC crisis are seeing their school rolls drop. Not only are current numbers of pupils dropping, but RAAC-affected schools are reporting reduced admission applications for this coming September. Given that pupil numbers are one of the ways the Government determine funding, will the Minister consider what financial support or protections can be put in place for these schools?

My final point is that the RAAC crisis is one part of what is a much wider backlog of maintenance and repair that is desperately needed across our school estate. I know that many noble Lords will have heard this statistic quoted before: a National Audit Office report from last year showed that there were around 700,000 children being taught in unsafe or ageing buildings. Earlier this month, one primary school in Devon reported temperatures being so low that children were keeping their gloves and coats on during lessons—and this school did not even qualify for any extra money for repairs.

The Association of School and College Leaders has also called on the Government to commit new money for the removal of RAAC, rather than using money that was already set aside for buildings and is desperately needed for the ongoing and already promised repairs programme. I echo this call and ask the Minister to confirm that schools identified as a priority for rebuilding for other issues, not RAAC issues, will still be getting the funding they need during the coming years.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 3:49, 1 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this important debate. It is always a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I declare my interests as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I have an interest in safety in school buildings since my children’s primary school, Mayfield in Cambridge, of which I was also chair of governors, was severely damaged by fire in September 2004. It took 100 firefighters eight hours to bring the blaze under control and, importantly, despite Cambridgeshire County Council providing a perfect alternative site close to the school within two weeks, there is no doubt that the many months of rebuild were disruptive to the children’s education, not to mention the emotional distress caused by the destruction of their beloved local school.

Part of the problem was that the structure of the building exacerbated the fire damage. The early 1960s model was commonplace across the country, but it emerged that the large metal window frames were the major structural feature holding the top of the walls and the single-storey roof in place. One small fire started by an arsonist caused significant damage.

That is why I have campaigned for sprinklers in new schools or school buildings, but it is equally important to ensure that schools are built from the right materials. Just yesterday, Blatchington Mill School in Hove, which had one department damaged badly by a fire earlier this year, had to tell parents that the damage caused by smoke and water means that the school as a whole cannot reopen until after half-term at the earliest. I do not know the structure of this school but, once again, significant damage, including to electricity, gas and water supplies, could have been avoided if sprinklers were installed, as water damage would have been restricted to just one small department and there would have been no spread of smoke damage to the rest of the building, which has meant that none of the pupils can return yet.

The Minister wrote to the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group on 4 October, saying:

“I would like to confirm that I have already spoken with departmental officials, who will re-review the data that has been provided”.

The letter refers to a cost-benefit analysis of sprinklers and the effect on children’s education of a fire, with a consultation on Fire Safety Design for Schools—BB 100.

The all-party group has some concerns about the risk assessment of the impact that a fire has on children’s education and attainment levels. Time does not permit me to go into the detail, but our experts believe that some of the underlying assumptions used by the DfE were flawed. We also heard that the DfE is going to appoint a fire engineer; despite the all-party group writing to and meeting regularly with Ministers on this issue for more than 15 years, we welcome the fact that there will now be someone inside the department who understands the issues relating to buildings and fire.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, has the fire engineer now been appointed? If the answer is yes, have they started work? Secondly, as the Minister said that she would not come to a meeting of the all-party group but was prepared to meet with the officers, will she now undertake to do so as soon as practicable?

As my noble friend Lord Addington outlined, the RAAC scandal is also keeping children out of school. I pay tribute to my noble friend for his highlighting of the damage that this does to the education of children. After many years of concern by experts and the construction industry, in September, the Government announced that any school buildings with RAAC needed to be closed until they had been checked.

As with Mayfield Primary School’s extraordinary windows story, RAAC was a cheap construction component installed between the 1950s and 1970s. It transpires that many other public buildings, hospitals and universities contain RAAC, so this issue is a stark warning to the public sector about ensuring that buildings are built safely and to last. What advice is being given to schools about how to build safe and long-lasting schools for the future, even if they cost a small amount more at the time of construction? It is becoming so evident that methods used between 50 and 70 years ago are costing us dear.

In December, it was reported that nearly 1,000 schools were believed to contain combustible materials similar to those used in Grenfell Tower. Shockingly, a further 120 school projects under way since the Grenfell Tower fire have been built using combustible facade insulation. While it is important to note that this is now to be banned, the DfE still forbids the installation of sprinklers.

Rockwool, which makes non-flammable cladding, commissioned a report that identified a total of more than 1,000 school and university buildings erected since 2013 using combustible cladding. An article in the i newspaper last autumn reported that heads across the country are furious with these problems of safety in their school buildings, not just with RAAC and combustible cladding but with the continued discovery of problems with asbestos.

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary of the National Education Union, said that government spending on schools is a third of that spent in 2010, and the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects has called for remediation and urgent funding by the DfE of all repairs.

This means that school estates cannot be repaired without impacting on the teaching element of school budgets, and that replacement of unsafe or flammable buildings, whether RAAC, cladding, or lack of sprinklers, is patchy at best, rather than repairs bringing buildings up to a safe standard for the future. I urge the Government to take these concerns on board and not only build and repair schools that need it, so that they will last for many years into the future. That will ensure that our children, their teachers and other staff can learn and teach in a safe environment for many years to come.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:56, 1 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate about an important matter which was clearly high on the political agenda last autumn but no longer has such prominence. One can only hope that this indicates that the problem is being properly addressed. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in that regard from the Dispatch Box.

As your Lordships will be aware, the issue of RAAC in school buildings is UK-wide. However, thus far, it has been found at just one school in Northern Ireland, Cairnshill Primary School in south Belfast. That discovery, in November, prompted the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to speed up surveys at 180 schools across the Province, with 120 schools having already been inspected at that point.

My understanding is that no further evidence of RAAC in Northern Ireland schools has yet been found. However, while this news is most welcome, there can clearly be no room for complacency, in order to properly protect pupils, teachers and staff at the almost 1,100 schools in the Province. Had RAAC not been discovered in any school in Northern Ireland, perhaps local residents could rest a little easier. But, by the simple laws of probability, one case would suggest that there are likely to be more instances yet to be found.

Sometimes it is easy for us to be slightly overcritical, and we perhaps do not praise public servants as often as we should. In that vein, I am advised that staff at the Department of Education and the Education Authority in Northern Ireland have been thoroughly professional, swift and helpful throughout the inspection process. I place on record my sincere thanks to them for their attention to detail and professionalism. Given the absence of Ministers at Stormont since the RAAC issue emerged, I suggest that they deserve even more credit for their efforts. I know that schools, parents and, indeed, teaching unions are grateful for what has been done. I hope that the possible appointment of an Education Minister to a reformed Northern Ireland Executive in the coming days will help rather than hinder their efforts.

In the meantime, I ask the Minister this: what contact have she, her ministerial colleagues or her officials had with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to ensure that what can be done to guarantee safe school buildings across the Province is being done?

Also, the topical Question by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, which is the subject of this debate, rightly refers to the need for

“the swift deployment of financial assistance for necessary maintenance and construction upgrades” caused by RAAC in schools. However, I imagine that the operation to find RAAC, and carry out remedial work where required, will also be costly.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans repeatedly and rightly stressed the consequences if funding is not allocated properly and on time. Can the Minister therefore assure me, particularly given the parlous state of the public finances in the Province of Northern Ireland, that any RAAC-associated overheads incurred by schools and funding bodies in Northern Ireland will be fully reimbursed by His Majesty’s Government?

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 4:00, 1 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for initiating this debate.

I pay tribute to all the teachers, staff, governors and parents who have coped during this very difficult situation. Anybody who saw “Panorama” could not help but be shocked by the effect on schools and schooling. Pupils face misery, with governors and head teachers struggling to cope and make alternative arrangements. Some 227 schools are unable to deliver face-to-face teaching to all their students, with 23 schools having to implement mixed-age teaching. The impact on those schools, whether of temporary classrooms, being bussed miles away to safer schools, or hurriedly organised virtual learning, is immeasurable. The huge effect on mental health and academic performance, and a lack of social interaction, come on the heels of the same things happening during the pandemic.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans mentioned St Leonard’s, which is one of the best-performing schools in the north-east. It has concluded that school closures and mixed-teaching arrangements will have seriously affected pupils and their performance in exams, impacting their anxiety and academic performance. Paul Whiteman of the National Association of Head Teachers has said that we

“need a real sense of a clear plan not just to put short-term mitigation measures in place, but to properly repair or replace buildings so they are fit for purpose. Propping up ceilings with metal poles is clearly not a serious option in the medium or long term”.

It is very easy to get into a blame culture, which I am pleased to say we have not done, because it helps neither the schools nor, more importantly, the children and young people. However, we need a clear commitment from the Government that they have a clear plan that every affected school can have the provision of first-rate buildings. Yes, there will be short-term measures while replacements are planned and built, but it is the long term that we need to get right. The school of which I was deputy head had mobile classrooms that had been provided because there had been a bulge in the birth rate. We were told that we would have these mobile classrooms for just a few years. They were still there 20usb years later. Temporary solutions are, as it says on the jar, temporary; they cannot be there many years later. I hope the Minister will give a commitment that any mobile classrooms will be provided for the shortest of periods until permanent provision can be made.

I have three other things I want quickly to mention. First, I am sure the Minister will speak to Ofsted to ensure that any affected schools will not have the added pressures of an Ofsted inspection. Might she consider making that move?

Secondly, although I think the Minister shook her head, I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that the academic performance of these young people will be affected in their all-important summer exams, whether they be GCSEs, T-levels or A-levels. There needs to be some consideration of how we can mitigate the effect that this disaster has had on them.

Thirdly, why not use this as an opportunity not just to replace what has happened, but to actually enhance the school buildings and make sure that pupils, for all the suffering they have had, get a much better provision? Let us use this as an opportunity.

Knowing the Minister, I am sure she will be anxious to do all she can. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that we cannot just take existing funding which was planned to be spent and use that. We need to make sure that this is additional money, because it would be quite wrong that those schools that have been waiting for some considerable time, whether it be for an extension or a major repair or whatever, suddenly find that stopped while their money is used to deal with this particular issue. I hope this is new money we are talking about; perhaps the Minister could confirm that as well.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Devolved Issues) 4:05, 1 Chwefror 2024

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this short debate on a most pressing issue affecting our most precious resource—our children and young people.

In the answer the Minister gave to me during Oral Questions last October on this subject, she told me that the Government’s

“overarching efforts are to get children back to normal education as quickly as possible”.—[Official Report, 23/10/23; col. 383]

However, the drip-drip of schools being added to the RAAC list is yet more evidence of chaos from this Government, which have no grip on the extent of crumbling school buildings. One of the defining images of 14 years of Conservative Government is children cowering under steel props to stop the roof falling in. What an unhappy metaphor.

Can the Minister say when a full list of schools affected will finally be available and how much her department expects this remedial work to cost? Parents, children and school staff need urgent reassurance and answers on the steps being taken to support schools, to ensure children can get back to their normal classrooms and to rebuild classrooms riddled with unsafe, crumbly concrete. In early December, the number of schools and colleges with RAAC stood at 231, when the Secretary of State announced that a deadline to remove RAAC from every school would be confirmed in the new year. Is the Minister able to confirm here what the deadline will be, and when will it be announced?

School leaders remain worried about the disruption to learning, with children taught in marquees, portable classrooms, sports halls or off-site. There is a further worry about specialist spaces, such as science labs, drama studios and design and technology rooms. There is a call, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans noted, for examined students to be given special consideration. As a former A-level examiner of some 27 years, I can attest to the disruption that displacement from specialist teaching spaces has on pupil learning. I urge the Government to engage with the examination boards to discuss what we call “mitigating circumstances” for those affected by this disruption.

As noted previously, parents are taking their children out of schools with dangerous concrete and sending them elsewhere. I will give just one example: 100 families have asked a council to move children from two Warwickshire schools affected by unsafe building materials. ASCL said that an unacceptable wait for mitigation works meant that parents were starting to

“lose confidence … and vote with their feet”.

Worryingly, however, RAAC is just one issue affecting schools in England. Some 700,000 children are being taught in unsafe or ageing buildings, according to a National Audit Office report last year. When will this downgrading of the school estate cease? When will real funding be put into making our schools fit for the present and for the future?

I am sure the Minister will expect me to note that, in Wales, we were able to continue with our school building and refurbishment programme over the past 14 years. In terms of RAAC, the situation in Wales was different from that in other parts of the UK, as many schools had been built before RAAC was in use. Since RAAC has stopped being used, we have had 140 new schools built in the first wave, and another 200 schools as part of the current wave of investment by the Welsh Government, in partnership with local government, which runs schools in Wales. This includes both capital maintenance of the existing school estate and a huge transformation programme building new schools and colleges.

In England, I believe there are currently 100 unallocated places on the list for the Government’s 10-year school rebuilding programme, and it is expected that they will be filled by the RAAC situation. The Secretary of State told Members of Parliament earlier this month that she anticipated that there would probably be more than 100 schools that need rebuilding. With schools across England in an urgent state of disrepair and with more than 1,200 originally being considered for this fund, experts are warning that other school building projects are likely to be hit due to the demand from RAAC-affected schools.

The National Audit Office reported that one of the biggest issues facing public buildings is the lack of knowledge of the state of disrepair. The Government have rejected a proposal to have a register of public holdings in a state of serious disrepair. I wonder why the Government are hesitant to have such a register. Last November, the Public Accounts Committee warned that

“the school estate has deteriorated to the point where 700,000 pupils are learning in a school that needs major rebuilding or refurbishment”.

It was shocked and disappointed by the lack of basic information from the DfE on the concrete crisis in schools.

I will end my contribution to this debate by echoing the words of the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, MP, who said:

“A significant proportion of children in this country are learning in dilapidated or unsafe buildings. This is clearly beyond unacceptable, but overcoming the consequences of this deficit of long-term infrastructure planning will not be easy. The School Rebuilding Programme was already struggling to stay on track, and DfE lacked a mechanism to direct funding to regions which need it most. It risks being blown further off course by concerns over RAAC, and many schools in dire need of help will not receive it as a result”.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Lords Spokesperson (Equalities) 4:11, 1 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I echo other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate on this very important subject. I take this opportunity to thank all our school leaders, those working in trust, local authority and voluntary-aided schools, for their work if they have been affected by RAAC. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, pointed out, this has been less in the public eye recently, and I would like to say that it is because this is being properly addressed. In addition to my thanks to those in schools, I add my personal thanks to officials in the department who have worked tirelessly with schools to try to resolve this problem.

As we can all agree, the safety of pupils and staff in our schools and colleges is of the utmost importance. That is why when new evidence emerged over the summer regarding reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—RAAC—we took immediate action to ask settings to take spaces known to contain RAAC out of use until mitigations were put in place.

I slightly took exception to some of what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, described in the Government’s response. The Government have been working on this issue for a long time with schools and colleges. Indeed, we have been talking to them about the potential risks of RAAC since 2018, when we published a warning note with the Local Government Association which asked all responsible bodies—that is, trusts, local authorities and dioceses—to identify any properties constructed using RAAC and to ensure that RAAC properties were regularly inspected by a structural engineer. Again, I do not think it is fair to describe this as not as clear as mud.

In February 2021, we issued a guide on identifying RAAC. Then we were concerned that not all responsible bodies were acting quickly enough. In 2022, we decided to take a more direct approach by issuing a questionnaire to responsible bodies to ask them to identify whether they had or suspected they had RAAC, and then we started a significant programme of technical surveys. With almost 16,000 schools built in the period when RAAC was used, that was no small task to undertake.

In July 2023, we emphasised the importance of keeping school buildings safe and well maintained in the Academy Trust Handbook. This update included additional content on safety and management of school estates and a new requirement in the Academies Accounts Direction for accounting officers to confirm that they are managing their estates in line with their statutory responsibilities. I am pleased to confirm that responsible bodies have submitted responses to the questionnaire for 100% of schools and colleges with blocks built in the target era. All those which advised us that they suspected that they might have RAAC have had a first survey to confirm whether it is present.

The vast majority of schools and colleges surveyed to date have been found to have no RAAC. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans spoke about a “significant percentage” of schools having RAAC. It is important to be accurate in how we describe this. There are over 22,000 schools and colleges in England, of which 231—around 1%, which it is fair to say is not a significant percentage—have confirmed RAAC in some of their buildings. All education settings with RAAC are in full-time face-to-face education for all their pupils. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, we will publish a full list of all settings shortly.

Every school or college with confirmed RAAC is assigned dedicated support from our team of caseworkers. Project delivery teams are on-site to support schools and colleges to implement mitigation plans. They work with them to put in place bespoke plans that suit their circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, stressed the immediate need for funding—I think he asked whether we would “punch through” with the Treasury. We did not need to, because the Chancellor has confirmed that we will spend whatever it takes to keep children safe. The Government are funding the emergency work needed to mitigate the presence of RAAC. This could include installing structural supports or temporary buildings.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, talked about disruption. It is important not to generalise and take the most complicated cases of RAAC, such as in some of the largest secondary schools and some of the special schools, which are the hardest cases for obvious reasons. However, the vast majority of schools did not lose any face-to-face education.

All reasonable requests for additional help with revenue costs, such as transport to other locations or temporarily renting a local hall, are being approved. Responsible bodies should discuss their requests with their caseworker at the Education and Skills Funding Agency in the first instance to agree any further support needed. To address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we are treating RAAC revenue requests as the highest priority and working closely with responsible bodies to process their requests as quickly as possible and ensure that our processes are not burdensome. We can also arrange urgent payments if needed.

Most importantly, we are funding longer-term refurbishment or rebuilding projects to replace RAAC. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, schools and colleges will be offered either capital grants to fund refurbishment work to permanently remove RAAC or rebuilding projects where needed, including through the school rebuilding programme. She asked me about a target date for removing RAAC. The critical date is that, today, no child is in a classroom in which they are at risk from RAAC. We could not say that a few months ago, so we should recognise that as the important first milestone on the road to replacing it as appropriate.

The requirements of each school or college will vary depending on the extent of RAAC and the nature and design of the buildings. We will be informing schools and colleges very shortly of our decisions.

The right reverend Prelate asked about the impact of pupil numbers. The House may be aware that we work on a lagged funding basis. If there is a fall in pupil numbers, that is softened by the lagged funding model, but we work with individual schools and if there are schools with particular pressures, of course we will work with them to address those.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about how we support responsible bodies to ensure that the necessary maintenance and construction upgrades take place. We support them by providing capital funding. We have a lot of guidance and support. We have a team of capital advisers who will go out free of charge and work with schools and responsible bodies. Of course, if there is an immediate and serious concern about a building, we work closely to address that. We have allocated over £15 billion of capital funding since 2015, including £1.8 billion in this financial year. That is on top of our 10-year school rebuilding programme. That programme will transform buildings in 500 schools, prioritising those in poor condition and with potential safety issues. We have announced 400 schools so far, of which we announced 239 in December 2022, and eight have been completed. I think that there was a concern that schools that will be rebuilt as a result of RAAC will somehow displace those that are already in the programme. I assure the House that this is not the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about Ofsted inspections. Ofsted did suspend its inspections for schools affected by RAAC last term, but it is now resuming them, given that all children are now all in face-to-face education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised the issue of cladding standards and fire safety. She pointed out the changes that we have made in the use of combustible cladding. Of course, we are insisting that automatic fire suppression systems such as sprinklers are installed in all new schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities, those with residential blocks and schools over 11 metres or four storeys in height. We have updated our guidance for new school buildings to ensure that we increase the already high fire safety standards in new schools. I am pleased to be able to confirm that our new fire engineer started work in the department on 15 January.

In relation to examinations, we recognise that this has been, for a relatively small number of schools, a tremendous disruption to education. We are doing everything that we can to work with settings to give those schools the financial and practical support to ensure that children in exam years in particular can catch up as effectively as possible. However, the legislation on examinations is very clear. Only with a change in legislation would we be able to make some of the changes which noble Lords suggested. The legislation is clear that exams show what children know and can do and not what they might have been able to do if they had been taught differently or under different circumstances. It is not possible to make changes to exams to reflect the impact of disruption on some groups of pupils. However, we have worked with awarding organisations to facilitate discussions with affected schools. We have asked them to agree longer extensions for coursework wherever possible and non-examined assessments, so that pupils have as much time as possible to complete those tasks.

I am running out of time, but on the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about contact with our counterparts in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, we have a cross-UK group which makes sure that we have the most effective engagement on these issues.

In closing, I reassure most importantly pupils, parents, teachers and staff in all our schools and colleges that this has been a massive focus for the department over many years, but particularly in the last four months. I particularly thank the leadership of those teachers who are giving real confidence to their pupils to overcome the difficulty with which they have been presented. I thank them personally, from the bottom of my heart.