Two Croydon schools forced to close over crumbling concrete

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Council’s Tory leadership accused of ‘deceiving’ parents with statement issued last week on the state of the borough’s schools.

Is he doing a f***ing good job?: Mayor Jason Perry’s fanboys think so

Despite assurances issued by the council, at least two Croydon schools will not be opening for the start of the academic year this week because of concerns that cheap and crumbling RAAC was used in the construction of their buildings.

As the national row over the under-funding of the schools building programme gathers pace, with the conceited and foul-mouthed Education Secretary Gillian Keegan landing her boss, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in the mess over his budgets when Chancellor, today the Department for Education made itself a laughing stock by issuing a social media meme with the less-than-reassuring message about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete: “Most schools unaffected”.

In Croydon, the Tory-run council’s propaganda department is now being accused of deliberately misleading parents, carers, teachers and school staff by issuing a statement on Friday that 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.”

What the council failed to mention was that, of Croydon’s 90 schools, primaries and secondary, fewer than 20 remain under local authority control, the “maintained schools” mentioned in the official statement. “The council statement was even less than half true,” a Katharine Street source said.

Following decades of effective privatisation of the nation’s education system, the vast majority of Croydon’s schools have been academised, and so fall outside the council’s direct control.

Many of these schools are using buildings that were constructed between the 1950s and 1980s, when RAAC was a commonly used construction material, but one which, it is now known, is prone to crumble and collapse after decades of use.

Ridiculed: the DfE’s less-than-reassuring meme today

It means that the senior staff at more than 70 Croydon academised schools are probably now frantically seeking to check their plans and records, either to comply with the DfE’s belatedly implemented survey of the nation’s schools building stock, or to double-check that the dread acronym RAAC is not going to ruin their start-of-term schedule.

Inside Croydon has discovered that Beckmead Park Academy, a special needs school on Monks Orchard Road, yesterday contacted parents to advise that there may be RAAC on their sites and that they need a DfE safety inspection before the school can begin the new term.

Beckmead Park is an all-through mixed SEN school, with places for around 127 pupils.

A letter from Dean Monfries, the head, said, “We have been notified by the DfE that there is a risk that our sites may indeed contain RAAC and will have to undergo a safety inspection this week before being able to open the school.

“We will notify you as soon as we have the results of this inspection.

“We appreciate the concern that this may raise, and we will always prioritise the safety of your children and our staff.

“Any contingency plans will prioritise the continuation of education and ensure that, if RAAC is identified, any impact on pupils is kept to an absolute minimum.”

Concrete evidence: the letter sent to families by Beckmead Park

But as one concerned parent told iC, “Many of the kids at this school are autistic. For them, routine and knowing what they are doing can be critical. Last-minute change can be very unsettling.”

Sources at the council confirm that at least one other school, as yet unidentified, has also been put on a “watch list” for RAAC and will not be re-opening until the matter is resolved.

The delays in the DfE managing to identify the RAAC risk schools, and Croydon Council’s disingenuous statement last week, only serve to demonstrate how badly fractured what is supposed to be a state education system has become under the academy policies of the Blairites and Tories.

But one opposition source today hit out at Croydon’s Conservative Mayor, Jason Perry, for deliberately misleading the borough’s parents and carers.

“The statement issued on Friday was not given to councillors first, but withheld until issued to the press. And even then, they took most of a day to draft it and clear it.

“The council statement was deliberately and carefully worded to deceive Croydon families into thinking that our schools are safe and free of RAAC, when in fact they were only referring to fewer than 20 schools.

“When dealing with the safety of our children, teachers and school staff, that’s just not good enough.”

The Tories have doubled down on their deception today, with one Conservative councillor, Ian Parker, tweeting at Labour opposition councillors, “Mayor Perry and Cllr Gatland [the cabinet member responsible for schools] came out as fast as humanly possible to reassure parents and students.

“Stop playing politics and claiming credit where it’s not due.”

Unintentionally, Parker managed to echo Government Minister Keegan’s claim that she’s “doing a fucking great job”. Very few people now would say that piss-poor Mayor Perry is doing any sort of job at all…

Inside Croydon approached Croydon Council, offering it an opportunity to come clean about the true extent of use of RAAC in all Croydon state schools – academies and others.

We have received no response.

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About insidecroydon

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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16 Responses to Two Croydon schools forced to close over crumbling concrete

  1. Les Parry says:

    I hope the Mayor deploys inspections by structural engineers to examine social housing in particular tower blocks and also low level blocks and communal accommodation . RAAC used in wide spread construction between the 50’s-90’s that would include Regina Road.

  2. derek thrower says:

    This reveals the problem of contracting out of local authority education into a splintered structure of academies and free schools, which the likes of Gove and the New Labour great thinkers failed to anticipate. The rigour of property management and inspection will not be ingrained in those organisations whose sole interest is in educational pedagogy and not the unfashionable and forgotten facets of providing public service with long term asset management.
    To be frank with such a chaotic system and process no one know for quite a while the extent of this construction fiasco, which has been known now for decades.

  3. While the use of RAAC in schools is a concern because of the risk that children will be killed or seriously injured, the problem is not confined to educational establishments.

    In April, Labour MP Emily Thornberry asked the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, “What assessment her Department has made of the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in (a) police stations and (b) fire stations in England and Wales and its potential impact on the structural integrity of those facilities”.

    Cruella sent her gopher (Croydon South MP, Chris Philp) in to reply. His sniffy response was “The Home Office is not responsible for assets belonging to the police and fire services… It is the responsibility of individual police and fire and rescue services to manage their estate…”.

    Thornberry didn’t take this lying down, and followed up in May with another question to Braverman, asking “whether she has held discussions with the heads of the (a) police and (b) fire and rescue services in England and Wales on the potential merits of those organisations commissioning surveys to identify police and fire station buildings which may have been constructed with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete”.

    Philp again followed orders, responded like a parrot (Norwegian Blue? Ed.) with “The Home Office has not engaged in discussion with the police or with fire and rescue services about identifying buildings which have been constructed using Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC)…”.

    Put simply, the Tory government thinks the taxpayer-funded police and fire brigade services should look after themselves.

    This buck-passing is evident in Croydon council’s inaction to date, with Perry’s refusal to look at schools out of direct council control. This is at odds with the fact that up until the Tories privatised our children’s education, most of the schools in the borough would have been built by the council. As David Wickens pointed out on Friday (Croydon schools given all-clear over ‘crumbling’ concrete fears), the Council would have plans and specifications for the schools built with taxpayers’ money.

    The Institution of Structural Engineers, whose website Philp suggested Thornberry visit, warn that as well as government and other public sector buildings, including those owned by the NHS, “RAAC also exists within the private sector. As such, it is advised that any private asset owner, with properties constructed between the mid-1950’s and mid-1990’s conduct a survey of the building to identify or eliminate the possibility of RAAC within the fabric where necessary.”

    As with Covid, when the going gets tough, the Tories do nothing but cover their arses, point the finger and hide (and try to make a profit)

  4. JohnG says:

    This illustrates the problems that arise when Councils do not employ sufficient Professionally qualified staff to manage contracts. Architects, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers etc. They seem to contract out these services and now blame political parties faults found in design, installation and maintenance. Responibility can be contracted out but the accountability for the work remains with the Council.
    Professional bodies say that RAAC is a Material save to use if designed, installed and maintained properly. This responsibility can be contracted out but not without any Council professional scrutingy and oversight.

    I wonder just how many professional chartered engineers does the Council employ to oversee these contracts and quality of work?

    • derek thrower says:

      I think you should read the article. The council only has responsibility for 20 out of the 90 schools in the Borough. The schools so far identified are not maintained by the Council and are the responsibility of the respective academy or free school. Your comment is irrelevant to the matter in Croydon..

    • Sarah Gills says:

      Why would they when most schools are not run by the Council? Furthermore, any experts they would have had would have been cut due to austerity.

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    Is the Council still not responsible for providing every child a school place?
    Surely they remain accountable still for providing education? Would that not mean therefore they should be engaging with the Academies to ensure that education is not interrupted?
    If not and that same interpretation of public service tenets is applied to all services the Council is mandated for, then why do we need them and what exactly are we paying for? Please lets not say unaccountable and shit contract managers and overpaid beauracratic flunkies – Seriously if Perry says what he says and fully believes it and thats how this council intends to operate going forward – this local electorate is in deep doo doo and so are their children.

    The same would also go for the NHS, Police and Fire service? After all they are the employer and RAAC poses a risk to employee’s. What about those injured and also patients? Few care much about criminals but they do have the right to life and not have the ceiling fall on them in their cells.
    The risk also of those services not being operational when needed as the operational premises is kaput surely is still a ministerial responsibility? So why is Philp signposting?

    Leaving aside the politic’s of the issue – RAAC as with many materials have a life span – even Victorian buildings and old Norman – For whatever reason we know many public buildings have not been maintained well if at all in some cases and we have many of those in Croydon – just ask many tenants in west Croydon in those dodgy developments or Regina road

    So there has to be a better balance between not over worrying people and maintaining safer provision of services.

    Still despite the swearing – Ms Keegan appears to actually be trying to do something and taking the matter seriously – But one cannot say the same about Mr Perry or in fact Philp.

    • derekthrower says:

      You seem to be completely unaware of the function of academies and free schools in education policy.

      The view of the Government is that such institutions provide choice and innovation in provision and are so centrally funded. Councils’ role is to secure enough places in it’s locality and so manage demand.

      The provision of supply is thus a matter for the suppliers.

      This is a matter of the practical application of a policy and not the politics of the policy itself. You seem unable to grasp this dichotomy.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Leaving aside the politic’s of the issue. Supply – demand provision – have a common factor – Risk of failure.
        But we agree that the Council role is to manage demand.
        Do you not also agree that the Council is both accountable and responsible for the provision of education?

        The relevence of the how it does that – you can debate – as many have done the last century. The fact is that those that run schools may be responsible for their premises (or not) but it does not mean that the Council or government can therefore shirk it’s responsibility?
        Perhaps that escaped your attention – silly me I should make those points somewhat clearer and more focused to enable as many to have enlightenment and simplicity.
        Mea Culpa

        • derek thrower says:

          I think the point is made clearly. Such schools are the responsibility of central Government who maintains them. The problem if you have read my earlier point is that despite taking over the function of Councils, the centre has failed to provide a process of asset management oversight, which would have a register to see the construction methods, outstanding structural defects, etc and now relies on a ad hoc system of call and response that is clearly inadequate for such a vital public service as children’s education with the current fiasco of school closures and uncertainty. This is the fundamental flaw of removing schools from a local system of governance and a vital bureaucracy to manage risk.

      • Oi, Delboy, have you gone all Tory in your old age?

        • derek thrower says:

          If you believe critiquing the practical application of political policies is “gone all Tory” Arfur. Then I must be guilty of the charge.

  6. James Graham says:

    I wonder if this is why they have closed off much of the Whitgift Centre?

    • derek thrower says:

      It would appear from my judgement that this is not the issue effecting the Whitgift Centre, which is a matter of the glass structures in the roof of the site that are now in a period long beyond their design life and have already suffered structural failures. Unlike RAAC though this failure does not apparently seem to require the closure of the site, but you can see many of the remaining retailers are already voting with their feet regarding the obsolescence of the site.

    • Chris Flynn says:

      The roof of Purley Downlands collapsed recently. Not sure if it RAAC related, or just everyone is looking to the heavens at the moment…

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