Social Justice

Parents will 'suffer' balancing work and childcare as schools shut over concrete safety crisis

"Safety of children is paramount, but this concrete is an issue that has been known about for years, so why are the closures so last minute? Once again we’re going to see parents suffer," warn Pregnant then Screwed

schools shut/ concrete safety

More than 100 schools across England will have to make alternative arrangements for the new school term. Image: Pexels

There are fears that “parents will suffer” as they “scramble to balance work and childcare” as more than 100 schools have been forced to close due to concrete safety concerns. 

Buildings at 52 schools in England were found to be at risk of sudden collapse due to dangerous concrete, and critical safety measures have been put in place at those schools.

Just one working day before many schools across the country reopen for the first day of term, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced the closure of more than 100 schools which were previously considered less at risk. It comes after a beam which was thought to be safe collapsed. 

Lauren Fabianski, head of campaigns and communications at Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “The last-minute closure of over 100 school buildings after a long gruelling summer juggling childcare and work couldn’t be coming at a worse time for parents.”

It is understood that 156 schools have been identified as having reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) since 2022. Sean Keyes, a managing director of Sutcliffe engineering firm, explained it is a lightweight, aerated, reinforced form of concrete and it “may not be structurally strong enough”. 

“This is unacceptable, as people have been aware of this issue for a number of years,” Keyes said. “In the slim chance that a RAAC roof collapses, then not only will it be unacceptable, but the results could be severe.” 

Children in affected schools will be forced to start the term either in temporary facilities or remotely. Some schools, such as Ferryhill School in County Durham, have reportedly delayed the start to the new academic year. 

Fabianski added: “Safety of children is paramount, but this concrete is an issue that has been known about for years, so why are the closures so last minute? Once again we’re going to see parents suffer. 

“We know that more often than not caring responsibilities fall to mothers, and that the knock-on effect on their careers can be catastrophic. We need to see sympathy and understanding from employers while parents struggle to pull last minute childcare together.”

Laurence Guinness, the chief executive of the Childhood Trust, added: “In January, the prime minister said that the single most important reason why he came into politics was to give every child the highest possible standard of education.

“But yet again we are witnessing a government vastly at odds with what it says. Children already disadvantaged by poverty, who’ve spent the summer hungry, lonely and bored are going to have their life chances further diminished by this failure.

“It’s back to portakabins and remote learning which sends a message to children that they’re not important. It’s time that the prime minster showed the country that he means what he says and ensures that every child has a safe and proper classroom to learn in.”

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The DfE stresses that this is a temporary measure affecting only a small number of schools. Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said: “Nothing is more important than making sure children and staff are safe in schools and colleges, which is why we are acting on new evidence about RAAC now, ahead of the start of term.

“We must take a cautious approach because that is the right thing to do for both pupils and staff. The plan we have set out will minimise the impact on pupil learning and provide schools with the right funding and support they need to put mitigations in place to deal with RAAC.”

Campaigners fear it could particularly affect single parents and carers. Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, said: “Unexpected school closures cause problems for all parents but it’s even tougher for single parents who, unlike couple parents, have only one annual leave allocation and no opportunity to juggle childcare. 

“In these situations some single parents are forced to take unpaid leave to look after their children and when a family survives on a single income this hits household budgets and can lead to hardship or more debt. We saw the impact remote schooling had on children and their parents during the pandemic and it’s essential that the unique needs of single parent families are considered when schools are forced to close.”

Dr Krish Kandiah, the director of Sanctuary Foundation and an advocate for vulnerable children, tweeted: “Struggling to understand the timing of closing ‘more than 100 schools’ across England. 

“Huge sympathy for children facing further disruption to their education, families scrambling to plan balancing work and childcare and school leaders having just one working day to come up with  an alternative provision.”

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