Scottish Government reveals weak RAAC concrete has been found in 35 schools
The Scottish Government has revealed 35 schools contain a potentially dangerous concrete material as it faced growing pressure for action to ensure the buildings are safe for children and staff.
SNP ministers had earlier faced criticism on Friday after initially suggesting they did not know how many schools contained reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), despite concerns having been raised about it several months ago.
Fears about the “bubbly” material have risen rapidly since the Westminster Government ordered the closure of more than 100 schools in England, just days before the start of the new term. The shock move on Thursday followed a beam collapse in a school over the summer, prompting a rethink about the scale of the risks posed by RAAC.
SNP housing minister Paul McLennan said on Friday morning the Scottish Government was still gathering the information from local authorities on which schools contained the material. Later, the Scottish Government confirmed that councils had indicated that 35 school buildings contained RAAC.
A spokeswoman said: “This is an issue that all parties are taking seriously and reviews of RAAC in property have been conducted by local authorities, NHS Scotland and other public sector organisations for some time, so we can all fully understand the scope of RAAC, including in the school estate.
“We have now received returns from all local authorities and councils have sought to reassure ministers that in the small number of schools where they have identified RAAC, appropriate mitigation plans have already been put in place to ensure the safety of pupils and staff, including ensuring that pupils are not being taught in parts of buildings at risk due to RAAC.
“Ministers are clear that they expect local authorities to continue to monitor the situation and we will continue to work closely with them in their response to the challenge.”
It has been known for several months the “bubbly” concrete is in schools in at least a dozen local authority areas. The Scotsman reported in May that East Lothian Council had closed off more than 20 rooms in Preston Lodge High School following the discovery of RAAC.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Does Scotland have to have a tragedy before ministers take this seriously? This issue has been bubbling up for months and its ridiculous that the Scottish Government have failed to use the summer to rigorously assess the scale of the problem and get repairs underway.
"The Government need to name the schools which have this concrete in place and say what measures are being taken to make them safe. We know that this potentially fatal concrete is above patients and students. It may be in other public buildings too.
"Ministers must set out how they will support cash-strapped schools, universities, hospitals and more to identify buildings at risk and cope with any necessary remedial works.”
In 2019, the independent Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) raised an alert highlighting the failure of a RAAC panel roof construction within a school. The material has low compressive strength, being around 10-20 per cent of traditional concrete, and is also "very porous and highly permeable".
In December last year, the UK Government called for checks to be carried out into the use of RAAC in schools, warning it is “much weaker” than traditional concrete, raising the "risk" of sudden or gradual structural failure.
The material was used in the construction of schools, colleges and other buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. The panels were generally pre-cast offsite and used for flat and pitched roofs, eaves, floors and walls within building construction.
Following surveys, RAAC repair work and contingency plans are already being carried out in many schools across Scotland, including in East Lothian, West Lothian, Edinburgh, Highland, and Perth and Kinross.
RAAC is also known to be in schools in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute and North Lanarkshire. There was previously reported to be no RAAC found at schools in Glasgow City, Fife, South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, Inverclyde or the Western Isles.
A spokesperson for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union criticised the lack of information about the problem.
“It is concerning that employee trade unions are hearing more on this issue via the media than from the Scottish Government or the local authorities who are responsible for schools,” she said.
"We have seen a number of concerning issues with the fabric of school buildings in parts of Scotland in the recent past, so it is essential that appropriate action is taken to address any potential safety issues in our schools.
"Councils have a duty of care to the staff and students in our schools and must work with health and safety representatives to ensure that our schools are safe places to learn and to work.”
A spokesman for council body Cosla said: “The first point to make is that this there are many council areas in Scotland where this is not an issue at all. Nor is it an issue in every school. That said, the safety of everyone in Scotland’s schools and all other council buildings is of paramount importance to councils. We treat the safety of everyone within our facilities extremely seriously.
"Scottish local authorities are aware of the RAAC issue in buildings across some of their estates and have regular inspections, put in place mitigations as appropriate and closed some buildings where this is required.”
In England, a total of 156 schools have been confirmed as having RAAC since 2022. Of those, 52 were deemed a critical risk, and safety measures have already put in place.
The Scotsman revealed in June that some pupils were facing disruption at Trinity Primary and Cramond Primary in Edinburgh, after RAAC was found in the school roof areas, with temporary classrooms since established at the schools.
On Friday, Amanda Hatton, executive director for children, education and justice services at the City of Edinburgh Council, wrote to parents and carers.
She said: “Following recent media coverage about schools in England having to close due to the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), I wanted to reassure about what we are doing here in Edinburgh.
"We have been assessing schools for its presence since April and carried out a significant number of surveys over the summer prioritised based on known potential risk factors such as the age of the building and type of construction.
"To date, RAAC has been identified in seven schools and, at each, appropriate mitigation measures have been put in place. In all the other schools surveyed over the summer, there has been no RAAC identified and they can remain open. Surveys will continue across the estate in line with current UK Government guidance.
"If any further mitigation measures are necessary, the schools involved will be fully supported to ensure learning and teaching can continue.”
It is understood the other affected Edinburgh schools are Pentland and Colinton primaries, Fox Covert and St Andrews Fox Covert primaries, which are both situated on the same time, and Currie High School.
Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine said: “I am alarmed by the news that this weak concrete has been found in local schools, including Cramond and Fox Covert primary schools in my constituency. I hope that the Scottish Government can ensure work is carried out as quickly as possible to keep children safe and stop any disruption to their education.
“I will be asking the council to keep myself, parents and the local community informed as often as possible whilst repairs are carried out.”
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