On 31 August the Government instructed over 100 schools in England to vacate and close spaces and buildings that are known to contain RAAC, a building material used to form roof planks, wall panels, and floor planks, due to risk of fracture and collapse. It is possible that more schools will be asked to close buildings as the full extent of the problem is uncovered.
Teaching unions have been pushing the Department of Education (DfE) to publish the list of affected schools. The Government has advised that all education settings with confirmed RAAC will be supported by a dedicated caseworker to help with necessary changes. The DfE’s Education Hub blog has also published new guidance on RAAC in education settings.
Questions to ask
You will be informed if there is an issue relating to RAAC where you teach. You should be given clarity on whether the school contains RAAC or the presence of RAAC is unconfirmed, and what action is being taken to remedy the situation if this is needed.
Education should not be disrupted due to the closure of buildings. You should be given clear information on how your lessons can be delivered if new arrangements are put in place due to RAAC-related closures. If these are not workable or any issues cannot be resolved, members can contact the MU.
If you are not given any information about RAAC in the schools where you teach, you can raise it with the school or with your employer/engager (e.g. music service or hub), asking the following questions:
1. Has your Local Authority/Trust/Dioceses completed the DfE RAAC questionnaire for schools you work in? If not, this needs to happen immediately.
2. If RAAC is suspected following completion of the questionnaire, has the DfE been in touch, or is the responsible body receiving expert advice locally?
3. If RAAC is suspected but not confirmed, is the appropriate Government guidance being followed, and is confirmation being sought appropriately?
4. Do schools’ risk assessments cover RAAC?
RAAC risk assessments should:
- locate where RAAC exists in a building
- confirm where it does not
- clarify where there is doubt until a full investigation is complete
Anywhere that RAAC has been used needs to be properly risk assessed, following the same approach as for asbestos.
While it is not appropriate for teachers to identify RAAC themselves, they may wish to know what guidance is available to ensure the safety of those working in buildings which may contain RAAC.
Where RAAC is suspected but not confirmed, Government RAAC Identification guidance is available. Where RAAC is confirmed, there is DfE guidance for Responsible Bodies and education settings with confirmed RAAC in their buildings.
The Insititute of Structural Engineers has existing guidance available on the investigation and assessment of RAAC. Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete panels: Investigation and assessment (2022) provides identification and remediation solutions for RAAC planks.
Earlier this year, the Institute also published Further Guidance to the above, which focuses on the critical risk factors associated with RAAC panel construction and includes a proposed approach to the classification of these risk factors.
The Institute of Structural Engineers goes on to advise that subject to the Chartered or Incorporated Structural Engineer’s findings, a process of ongoing monitoring and/or remedial propping or strengthening works may be needed, and that it may be necessary to remove or replace RAAC planks.
What is RAAC?
RAAC is a highly aerated, lightweight, concrete based material, with different material properties to conventional concrete. It was typically used in precast panels in walls, roofs, and sometimes floors. Problems associated with older forms of the construction include high deflection, corrosion and spalling, and, where there is a low-end bearing, the possibility of sudden collapse due to cracking.
It should be noted that traditional concrete is a highly reliable material with high compressive strength. When combined with steel reinforcement to become ‘reinforced concrete’ it can form some of the world’s biggest and heaviest loaded structures such as high-rise buildings, bridges, and dams.
The Institute of Structural Engineers has advised that “If properly designed, manufactured, in good condition with good bearing, RAAC installations are considered safe. However, the panels can creep and deflect over time, and this can be exacerbated by water penetration. A more recent incident indicated that if they have insufficient bearing and their structural integrity is compromised, they can fracture and collapse with little or no warning.”