By Bob Sulatycki, Socialist Alternative London
This September, dozens of schools did not open, others only partially opened, through the presence of crumbling concrete. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan commented that some children prefer to be taught in portacabins. Maybe she should try working in one herself, especially as the cold weather sets in. And what an indictment of the state of so many school buildings that pupils prefer portacabins!
The threat of collapse, and consequent risk to life because of RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) has been known for years. The collapse of a ceiling in an empty Kent classroom in 2018 should have signaled an emergency response from the authorities. But it has taken five years to get to this point, where emergency measures are suddenly and chaotically the order of the day.
Despite a survey sent to Headteachers, it’s still unclear how many schools contain RAAC, which often found in ceilings, and where a collapse could have a potentially catastrophic impact. More importantly, surveys of schools should not be carried out by headteachers, or school caretakers, or any other willing amateurs, but by trained building surveyors who know what they are looking for.
Even when apparently safe, the nature of RAAC means that it can deteriorate very rapidly. The only safe solution is for a planned programme of removal of all dangerous materials, including RAAC and asbestos, from every school and public building.
After years of deregulation, privatisation and cuts in spending, schools are in a critical condition. Tory ExPrime Minister David Cameron once proudly boasted of having a bonfire of red tape – removing controls and protections for public and private buildings.
Such a policy of neglect contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017. Grenfell survivors and victims’ families still await justice many years on.
Grenfell served as a tragic symbol of the state of Tory Britain. Six years on, British capitalism finds itself in endless crisis – suffering some of the highest inflation in Europe, and now likely heading toward another recession. The railways are increasingly dysfunctional in many parts of Britain, and even sewage systems are falling into disrepair. The RAAC crisis is emblematic of the crumbling state of British capitalism as a whole.
Years of underfunding, compounded by the transfer of resources to favoured pet Tory projects like ‘free schools’, have resulted in an ever-worsening crisis in schools. The National Audit Office says that 700,000 children are taught in schools in desperate need of repair. 90% of schools still contain deadly asbestos. Sometimes the asbestos is sealed, but sometimes the seals have deteriorated or are non-existent.
£7 billion is required annually just to maintain the schools’ estate, but currently only a third of that is spent. The Department for Education admits that 2,000 schools are in urgent need of rebuilding, yet only 50 per year can expect a rebuild. Based on the current capital programme, schools in England and Wales would only get a makeover every 500 years!
WE FIGHT FOR
- Unions and parents’ organisations to campaign for clear, accurate information, including surveys; for an urgent timetable for removal
- A massive schools and hospitals rebuilding programme
- Government to fund all costs incurred by schools, caused by closures or part closures
- End PFI schemes now. Cancel all future payments
- End academisation and free schools! Revert all academies to local authority control.
- Nationalisation of the construction industry under democratic workers’ control, as part of a socialist plan for education and housing