Wakefield’s St Thomas a Becket School forced to close after RAAC discovery
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Parents have been told that St Thomas a Becket Catholic Secondary School, in Sandal, will remain closed until November 1, when it will reopen to Year 11 pupils only.
They have also been warned that the closure is likely to have a “significant impact” on pupils’ education, with a return to home learning.
The Department of Education (DfE) has ordered the school to be closed until a risk assessment can be carried out to establish what work needs to be done to make the building safe.
It is the first reported school closure in the Wakefield district.
In a statement, Lesley Fitton, chief executive of the Bishop Konstant Catholic Academy Trust, which runs the school, said: “The safety of our pupils and staff is of paramount importance and work is underway to mitigate the risks and minimise disruption to children’s education.
“The academy trust and school leadership have been working closely with the Diocese of Leeds, have engaged a specialist RAAC structural engineer toinspect the building, and will implement whatever remedial measures are required.
“The trust will ensure all DfE guidance is being followed correctly.”
An inset day was scheduled for Friday, followed by a week-long half term break.
Pupils were due back in school on Monday, October 30.
The trust said the school will only be open to Year 11 pupils from Wednesday November 1.
Teaching and work for all other students will be provided online as staff plan how to use the spaces available.
Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was used in buildings between the 1950s and the 1990s and is weaker than traditional concrete.
The estimated lifespan of RAAC is around 30 years and, because of this, work now needs to be carried out on affected buildings to make sure they are structurally safe.
More than 100 schools in England have been told to shut buildings unless they put safety measures in place.
Parents and carers yesterday received a letter from school head teacher, Dr Patrick Caldwell, which says: “You may have seen on the news that because RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete which is weaker than other forms of concrete, concerns have been raised about its long-term durability.
“The safety of our pupils and staff is of paramount importance and so this represents a significant concern to us as a school.
“We have been contacted by the DfE and advised that we need to close our school with immediate effect until a DfE caseworker can come onto site and carry out a risk assessment to establish what remedial measures are required.
“School will therefore be closed to pupils tomorrow.”
The letter adds: “The risk assessment should take place during the holidays and we will then be able to give you more information about the next steps.
“We will provide an update for all parents and carers by the end of next week; however, it is likely that this will have a significant impact on our pupils’ education and we may have to initiate a home learning programme.
“More information on this will follow.”
Public service union Unison said it has concerns about the impact the school closure will have on both pupils and staff.
The union has asked the academy trust to explain the extent of the problem and how long any remote learning is likely to be in place.
Rianne Hooley, Unison Yorkshire and Humber regional organiser, said: “It’s really concerning that this dangerous concrete has only just been identified in the school, so long after the issue has been in the spotlight and this far into the autumn term.
“It means that since September the pupils and staff have been learning and working in a potentially dangerous building.
“The government has completely mishandled the crumbly concrete situation and continues to do so.
“Ministers must cough up and fund the repairs to St Thomas a Becket so children and staff can get back to normal as soon as possible.”
A Wakefield Council meeting heard yesterday that RAAC has yet to be discovered at any local authority-maintained schools.
Last month, Natalie Palmer, Wakefield Council’s interim service director for property, said: “Currently there are no schools affected by RAAC.
“We have a programme of surveys in place and schools know they are expecting a surveyor.
“We are committed to sharing (a list) where there may be schools that are confirmed at risk.”
Ms Palmer said colleagues had set up a council-wide “RAAC response group” and meetings take place every 48 hours.
She added: “We are in contact with the schools who might need that support through that forum.”