Gillian Keegan said she hoped all the “publicity” around reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) in buildings will make the responsible bodies for schools fill out the Government’s questionnaire by the end of this week.
Ms Keegan has been criticised for shifting the blame onto schools during the concrete crisis, with one union leader describing the remarks as “outrageous”.
The Education Secretary, who railed against those who had “sat on their a*** and done nothing” in a sweary outburst on Monday, said 5% of schools, or the bodies responsible for them, had still not responded to a questionnaire sent out by the Department for Education (DfE) about Raac on their sites.
She told Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 on Tuesday: “Now hopefully all this publicity will make them get off their backsides. But what I would like them to do is to respond because I want to be the Secretary of State that knows exactly in every school where there is Raac and takes action.”
Ms Keegan added: “We’ve written to them quite a few times and we’ve also set up a call centre to phone them up to ask them to do it and they still haven’t. So we have written to them yesterday and given them ’til the end of the week.”
Downing Street backed the Education Secretary’s call for councils and school trust leaders to respond to a survey about crumbling concrete.
Her comments came after more than 100 schools in England were told by the Government to fully or partially close at the start of term because of the presence of collapse-risk concrete in their buildings.
Headteachers have been scrambling to find temporary teaching spaces ahead of the new academic year, while others have been forced to replace face-to-face lessons with remote learning.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is the Education Secretary’s second display of petulance in consecutive days – albeit on this occasion without the swear words attached – and isn’t very helpful.
“Schools have been expected to identify Raac even though this is a specialist field and are unlikely to have staff who are experts in this area.
It is outrageous of the Education Secretary to lay any responsibility for the Raac crisis at the door of schools
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the NEU
“They have received minimal help from the Department for Education which will have known which schools have not returned surveys for several months and which has had ample time to reach out to them. The Education Secretary would do better to provide support, rather than blame.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Any attempt to start shifting the blame onto individual schools will be seen by parents and public for what it is: a desperate attempt by Government to deflect from its own significant failings.
“The facts are clear: the current crumbling school estate is the direct result of ministerial decisions to slash capital budgets. Furthermore, the Government has known about the risks associated with Raac for many years but has only recently sent out these surveys to responsible bodies.”
We are putting extensive help in place to provide rapid support for schools and colleges affected by RAAC, to minimise any disruption to learning.
For more information:https://t.co/HZtETclz5O pic.twitter.com/YkUymbtakA
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) September 5, 2023
He added: “The fact that we now have classroom ceilings held up by metal poles and classrooms put out of use completely is a reflection of the neglect and cuts we have been warning about for years.
“The responsibility for this situation sits squarely on the Government’s shoulders and no amount of deflection and distraction will change that.”
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “It is outrageous of the Education Secretary to lay any responsibility for the Raac crisis at the door of schools.
“The fact is that the Department for Education has dragged its heels over many years on this issue.”
During the interview with Jeremy Vine, Ms Keegan put her sweary outburst the day before down to frustration that the interviewer “was trying to pin everything” on her.
She insisted the Government and her predecessors have done an “excellent job” in responding to the aerated concrete crisis.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “The Education Secretary’s comments are a slap in the face to all pupils and parents affected.
“This happened on the Conservatives’ watch and they have flat out refused to take responsibility.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Certainly, parents want reassurance on this and I think we would agree that it is important that all schools, as 95% or more have already done so, fill out this survey so we can provide further reassurance.
“We know already that, in the vast majority of cases, parents and pupils will not be affected by this.”