Agenda item

Leicestershire School Buildings.


The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services which provided an overview of Leicestershire school buildings, including the roles and responsibilities of the Local Authority and Academy Trusts. A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 9’ is filed with these minutes.


In introducing the report, the Director provided an update to the Committee on an issue relating to the presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in some school buildings nationally, an issue which had been covered extensively in the media:


“On 31 August 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) published updated guidance for responsible bodies of state funded education estates in England that had confirmed or suspected RAAC in their buildings.


The guidance advised responsible bodies to vacate and restrict access to the spaces with confirmed RAAC. Spaces should remain out of use until appropriate mitigations were in place, even where they would have been deemed ‘non-critical’ previously.


On 31 August, it was reported in the media that there were 156 settings in England with confirmed RAAC, according to DfE data. Of those, 52 already had safety mitigations in place, and 104 were being contacted week about getting them in place.


As the responsible body for maintained schools, Leicestershire County Council had not had any approach from the Government to identify a school (maintained or academy) which should have been closed.


In December 2018, the DfE made building owners aware of a recent building component failure in a property constructed using RAAC. In May 2019, the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) raised an alert to emphasise the potential risks from such construction, highlighting the failure of a RAAC panel roof construction within an operational school. This collapse was sudden with no apparent warning.


Since then, the DfE had been made aware of further sudden collapses of RAAC panels in roofs that appeared to be in good condition.


In March 2022, the DfE asked all responsible bodies to undertake a survey questionnaire to identify any RAAC in their estate. The survey was extended to further education colleges and nurseries in December 2022. The DfE required responses to the questionnaire setting out actions being taken by Responsible Bodies. The responsible body for maintained schools would be the Local Authority. Academies and Multi-Academy Trusts would be the responsible bodies for their schools.


Previous RAAC information published from 2019 onwards was safety alert and guidance only, recommending that responsible bodies check their school buildings. All maintained schools within the specified date range, at that time, were checked in 2019 by operational Property services. Academy schools were also written to in 2019.  


Leicestershire County Council undertook a review of its school buildings by filtering data from condition surveys within the new date range of construction identified by the DfE, 1930-1990. This returned 95 maintained schools with buildings within the date range.


To date, all relevant maintained school building had been assessed and RAAC had not discovered within any maintained schools.”


Arising from discussion, the following points were raised:


      i.         A member raised concern that the report had not covered voluntary aided schools such as church schools, which were not under the responsibility of the Council. Members noted that maintained church schools were under responsibility of the relevant diocese and the relevant governing body. Voluntary controlled schools would usually be under the ownership of the diocese who worked in partnership with the local authority, which remained the responsible body. The DfE made a grant available to the diocese in respect of its voluntary aided schools and maintained church schools which converted to academies were leased through a church supplemental agreement. Members were assured that the Diocese of Leicester Board of Education had completed all surveys requested by the DfE and was working closely with church academies which had been identified. The Director agreed to discuss the safety of church schools and academies in Leicestershire with the member.


     ii.         Members noted that responsibility for building safety and maintenance of faith schools which were independently run would sit with the relevant building owner.


    iii.         In response to concern that the closure of schools would prevent sufficient special educational provision to meet the needs outlined in Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP’s), the Director assured members that there were no Leicestershire schools with RAAC which have had to put measures in place. In the event that a school did have to close due to safety concerns, the Department would enact contingency arrangements, such as locating another building to ensure continuation of education for children.


   iv.         The DfE had not published the number of academies which were overdue in completing a survey questionnaire to identify any RAAC in their estate. To date, all those academies in Leicestershire which had responded to the survey had not identified and issue with RAAC. Members noted that the Council and the Diocese of Leicester Board of Education had found it difficult to receive clarity from DfE on RAAC in academies. The Department was confident that all Local Authority maintained schools in Leicestershire had no RAAC within their building.


     v.         In response to concern regarding the risk of safety in public buildings, such as schools, the Director of Corporate Resources assured members that the Council undertook compliance improvement works on an annual basis and that this included asbestos removal work, improvements to fire compartmentation, and legionella control projects. Assurance was given that where a risk to life was identified, contingency arrangements would be enacted, and the issue would be addressed immediately.


   vi.         Members noted that the Director had discussed the issue of RAAC in Leicester City schools with the Strategic Director Social Care and Education at Leicester City Council and had offered support if it would be required. However, it was understood by the Department that Leicester City Council had put contingency arrangements in place for the continuation of education for children in affected schools.


  vii.         An error in the report was highlighted within the table outlining schools under the School Priority Rebuilding Scheme. Members noted that the responsible body for Rawlins Academy should be the Embrace Multi Academy Trust.




a)    That the overview of Leicestershire school buildings, including the roles and responsibilities of the Local Authority and Academy Trusts in terms of building safety and maintenance, and the update provided on the presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete in schools and academies, be noted.


b)    That the Director of Children and Family Services be requested to contact the Church of England Schools Representative on the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee to discuss the safety of church schools and academies in Leicestershire.


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