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RAAC — schools at ‘critical risk of sudden collapse’ with pupils unable to return

AuthorsZoe Pond

RAAC schools at critical risk of sudden collapse with pupils unable to return

As widely reported, some pupils across England are unable to return to school due to safety issues with their buildings.

With more than 500 schools identified as using the unsafe material — and a whole host of other local authority buildings that could be affected — this issue could compound even further.

Here, Senior Associate and construction law specialist Zoe Pond explains what’s happening and how we can help schools and local authorities with construction contracts for urgent remedial work.


Over 100 closures

In June, the Government launched an inquiry across a range of public sector buildings to identify the use of a specific reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC). The material has been used in buildings (such as hospitals, courts and police stations) since the 1950s as a lightweight form of concrete.

The Government has now ordered over 100 schools, nurseries and colleges to close their buildings due to the presence of the material, which rapidly loses structural stability as it ages.

For those at immediate risk, remedial works have been undertaken to remove the material, stabilise buildings or rebuild existing structures. The Department of Education has reportedly identified over 150 school buildings using RAAC since 2022, with more than 50 at critical risk of sudden collapse “with little or no notice”, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

There may be a further range of schools affected, as the National Audit Office has recently identified more than 500 schools with sources of RAAC — and it’s suspected that a wide range of other local authority buildings could also use the material.


What is RAAC?

RAAC is considered a weaker and cheaper alternative to standard concrete, with a limited durability of around 30 years. Buildings that use RAAC pose safety issues as the material is less robust than standard concrete and consequently, such buildings are at higher risk of collapse. RAAC was largely used in roofs, floors and walls as a lightweight concrete from the 1950s to the 1990s.


Urgent remedial works

While the Government has been monitoring the condition of public sector buildings that use RAAC since 2018, the need to take action accelerated after a beam in an affected building that was viewed as low risk collapsed over the summer.

For schools that are required to carry out remedial works, the Department of Education has an allocated funding stream. While the full extent of affected buildings remains to be seen, public sector managers should be mindful of the potential risks associated with such defects and seek advice to carry out appropriate remedial works.  


Talk to us

We know that this is a really difficult time for schools and local authorities. If you need advice on construction contracts for remedial works, our dedicated construction law team can help.

We support on all aspects of non-contentious construction services, ranging from advice on procurement through to the drafting of main contract and subcontract terms, consultant appointments, development agreements and more. We also provide commercial advice if difficulties arise during the course of your construction project under all forms of contract, including on adjudication, arbitration, litigation and mediation.

We are appointed to the Crown Commercial Services (CCS) Framework and the NW Legal Consortium panel and are therefore well placed to advise local authorities on a wide range of construction and engineering projects.

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