Schools: RAAC - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 3:44 pm ar 1 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.