Croydon schools given all-clear over ‘crumbling’ concrete fears

Our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE, on a reassurance offered from the Town Hall

New term: in Croydon, at least, no schools are affected by issues with RAAC

Croydon youngsters, many of whom might be looking forward with excitement to their first day at a new school next week can, after all, spend the weekend getting their uniforms and satchels ready for the start of term on Monday (or Tuesday if they have an inset day).

None of Croydon’s state schools, primary or secondary, are blighted with the “crumbling” concrete which has prompted a national outcry.

That’s according to a statement from Croydon Council issued to Inside Croydon this afternoon, after more than 100 schools across England have been forced into late-notice closures because of the risks of collapsing masonry from RAAC.

Schools with buildings containing RAAC – reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete – have been told they must introduce safety measures, which could include propping up ceilings, finding new buildings to house classes, or outright closure.

The Government gave the order to close the affected schools only yesterday, with the start of the new school year just days away.

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete used in roof, floor, cladding and wall construction in Britain from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. It is believed to have been used as a low-cost option by some municipal architects, primarily in office and schools, although RAAC has been found in a wide range of buildings, not all of which are still in the public sector.

Minister in a mess: education chief Gillian Keegan

The Government has been slow to issue any complete list of the affected premises. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said affected schools would contact parents directly, adding: “If you don’t hear, don’t worry.” Which, of course, caused even greater uncertainty and concerns.

In response to enquiries made by Inside Croydon, a spokesperson for Croydon Council said, “All Croydon’s local authority maintained schools have been surveyed as required and will be open as normal at the start of the autumn term.”

The council statement made it clear, however, that not all the Croydon education estate has been checked for RAAC – just those buildings “that meet the criteria”.

The spokesperson said, “Croydon Council has reviewed all local authority maintained school buildings and carried out specialist surveys for reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete at those that meet the criteria.

“This is in line with the request from the Department of Education, who asked all councils in England to carry out surveys where RAAC might be present.”

Asked whether there might be any other civic buildings affected, the spokesperson said, “We do not have any other council buildings that are affected by the issue of RAAC.”

There was a seemingly modest £25,000 set aside in Croydon Council’s budget for this financial year to identify RAAC in Croydon schools and belatedly create a register, but as of today no report arising from this survey had been published by the council.

Quick check: the £25,000 allocated in the council budget for checking for RAAC and creating a ‘register’

According to a senior source from the council’s education department, “Thinking of when most Croydon schools were built, they were mainly either before or after the RAAC era.

“There is, of course, an issue that not all schools have responded to a questionnaire sent out last year, so there are a lot of unknowns.

“THe council has always had a pretty comprehensive buildings survey system for maintained schools, even if we weren’t devolved enough funding to deal with any but the most urgent issues.”

The Department for Education has said today that it will publish a list of RAAC-affected schools “in due course”.

Of those schools understood to be closed at the start of term, the only ones affected in London appear to be Corpus Christi Primary in Brixton, where parents were told on August 18 that juniors are to be relocated, St Gregory’s College in Harrow (where work is being done to prop up the concrete, but the school is expected to open as planned) and St Thomas More Comprehensive in Eltham, where the hall, gym, canteen, drama studio and toilets are closed.

The concern remains that RAAC has been used much more widely than the Government has so far let on.

Matt Byatt, the president of the Institution of Structural Engineers, said RAAC could be present in “office blocks, sports facilities, high street stores and hospitality buildings”.

Byatt said, “We only know where it is when it has been found.

“Until someone is looking for it, they wouldn’t know it’s there.”

And as one sage observer remarked on social media this afternoon, “The Tories won’t publish the list of Britain’s potential deathtrap schools. But we can hazard a guess that Eton, Harrow and Winchester are not at risk.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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3 Responses to Croydon schools given all-clear over ‘crumbling’ concrete fears

  1. David Wickens says:

    I really don’t understand the comments from the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers “we only know where it is when it has to be found etc”. Croydon and I expect many Local Authorities and others who designed the affected buildings retained the original drawings. It’s a legal requirement nowadays.

    Croydon had extensive record drawings, including for example Fairfield Halls and many schools which were designed in-house. Hence it’s quite a simple matter to periodically review what materials are present and inspect them accordingly. Unfortunately during the latter part of my career Directors didn’t seem to value such records or wish to fund their retention in terms of space or digitising cost.

    I remember one incident where a school had removed a load bearing wall without reference to the design drawings or Council Engineers.It was spotted during a visit by one of my Engineers who took immediate action to ensure the safety of the children etc.

    All materials have a theoretical design life. RAAC is quite short at 30 years but this seems to have been ignored. Lay people will be aware that car cam belts have to be replaced are defined intervals otherwise one risks an engine failure. However it seems to be the norm that people think buildings and other structures don’t have a finite life and will last forever. The reality is somewhat different and one should plan maintenance budgets accordingly.

  2. Hmm. “Croydon Council has reviewed all local authority maintained school buildings”.

    So what about those schools that aren’t local authority maintained? And any other public buildings in the borough constructed with this material? Aw, that’s too bad? Is part-time Perry’s council washing its collective hands of any responsibility for our safety?

    Mind your heads!

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