DfE criticised over delays at RAAC-struck schools

MPs have criticised the Department for Education (DfE) over delays to the provision of mobile classrooms for schools affected by RAAC.

Yesterday (11 September) the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) grilled two senior civil servants over the government’s response to safety concerns at over 100 schools due to the presence of RAAC. The civil servants were Susan Acland-Hood (pictured) and Jane Cunliffe, permanent secretary and chief operating officer at the DfE respectively.

Cunliffe confirmed that three contracts had been agreed by the DfE to provide temporary accommodation to schools. The department has declined to comment on the contractors involved, but Construction News understands that Portakabin and Reds10 are building temporary buildings, while Mace is project managing.

Acland-Hood and Cunliffe could not confirm the number of mobile classrooms provided to schools since the DfE’s decision in late August to immediately halt the use of school buildings with RAAC.

Conservative MP Mark Francois said: “The fact that you cannot tell this committee how many mobile classrooms you have actually provided since you took the decisions to close the schools… is what used to be known at school when I was a kid as a complete giveaway, isn’t it?”

Dame Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the PAC, told the committee that some schools had struggled to get temporary classrooms through the DfE and have had to procure their own – including schools who commissioned mobile classrooms before the change in RAAC guidance.

In the latter category is Hockley Primary School in Essex, which closed in June and has not yet fully reopened. The DfE told parents that there would eight mobile classrooms in place from 4 September but these are now expected to be delivered in mid-November.

Another school has had delays in installing temporary accommodation due to the nature of the ground, Hillier said.

The committee also discussed the plan for inspecting buildings suspected to contain RAAC.

The number of surveyors contracted by the government has increased from three to eight, with Cunliffe saying that over 600 schools have already been investigated.

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