Conservative Government Disaster 1 – Jeremy Hunt
Despite Hunt’s promise to “spend whatever it takes,” the Treasury has delivered a crushing blow, declaring that there is no additional funding available to support much-needed school repairs.
It appears that money allocated for repairing school buildings at risk of collapse will be taken from the Department for Education (DfE) existing capital budget. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt vowed on Sunday to “spend what it takes” to ensure classrooms are safe after several facilities were closed due to concerns with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).
Over the weekend, the Chancellor reassured parents that thorough measures have been taken to identify any dangerous buildings, responding to accusations that ministers did not act promptly enough to address risks raised in 2018. While Mr Hunt did not estimate the potential cost of addressing the issue, he confirmed the commitment to spend what is necessary for the safety of children.
Government sources have hinted that the expense of the repairs could be managed using the DfE’s existing capital budget. Over 100 schools and colleges have been instructed to entirely or partially close down buildings after a beam, previously considered to be safe, collapsed.
The potential for more classroom closures has been acknowledged by Schools Minister Nick Gibb, with Mr Hunt confirming additional structural issues could surface in the coming weeks or months. When new information about the potential risk of Raac emerged over the summer, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is said to have acted promptly. There is also ongoing concern about the presence of asbestos in schools and other public establishments.
The Chancellor commented on Sunday that the government would take action regardless of whether the issue was Raac or asbestos, and they will do their utmost to ensure children’s safety.
Despite uncertainty regarding the extent to which central government will cover the costs, unions have expressed their frustration. Mr Hunt did not provide a definitive answer about whether headteachers would receive extra finances for rentals, stating only that they would be supported in keeping children safe.
In her article published in The Sun on Sunday, Ms Keegan reassured readers that this crisis would not lead to a return of lockdown-like restrictions. The government has expressed that remote learning as a result of inaccessible classrooms should only last for days, not weeks, though no specific timeline has been provided on when the disruption might end.
To address the issue, education leaders have been advised to utilise community centres, empty local office buildings, or other schools during the first few weeks while structural supports are being installed. The Labour party has concerns about the current spending plan; they fear that using the existing budget may have repercussions on other needed actions in schools, such as tackling asbestos or implementing broader rebuilding programmes.
Parliament is expected to receive an update from Ms Keegan next week, with growing demands for transparency regarding the extent of the risk posed by Raac within the public sector estate. The Labour party plans to force a vote for the government to release a list of affected schools, which the ministers have stated will be provided in due course. Schools in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are also undergoing assessments for the material.
Conservative Government Disaster 2 – Rishi Sunak
While Rishi Sunak vehemently denied allegations of underfunding England’s school rebuilding program as “completely and utterly wrong,” his defence inadvertently shone a glaring spotlight on himself, validating a critical aspect of the accusations. This revelation only deepens the emotional resonance of the controversy surrounding his role in the matter.
Between 2016 and 2020, the Department for Education identified approximately 300 to 400 schools per year requiring reconstruction due to the crumbling state of their buildings. Some incidents, like a concrete block falling from a primary school roof in 2018, emphasized the critical safety risks faced by students, teachers, and staff.
Despite such incidents and a clear awareness of the dangers, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision significantly impacted the number of schools receiving funding for rebuilding. Initially, 100 schools per year were presented with funding, but when the Department for Education requested to increase this amount to 200, the request was not only denied, but the existing program was scaled back to fund only 50 schools per year.
In response to the criticism, Rishi Sunak confirmed that during his first spending review in 2020, he introduced a 10-year school rebuilding programme, aiming to refurbish or rebuild 500 schools. This plan, however, adhered to the reduced rate of 50 schools per year, directly implicating him in the ongoing issues faced by schools across England.
With limited government investments, the school rebuilding programme may not effectively reach disadvantaged or voluntary-aided schools, academy trusts, and local authorities in need of essential repairs or refurbishments. The existing budget allocated for school buildings might also struggle to address vital repairs, such as replacing roofs or asbestos issues.
Additionally, delays in addressing these risks may lead to more pupils being temporarily placed in alternative accommodations, leading to further disruptions in their education. The lack of adequate funding for school repairs and the larger schools rebuilding programme presents ongoing challenges to the safety and well-being of children, teachers, and staff within the education system in England.
Conservative Government Disaster 3: Gillian Keegan
The Education Secretary was caught on camera, unleashing a torrent of expletives in frustration over the media’s coverage of the contentious schools concrete dispute. This emotional outburst highlights the intense pressure and scrutiny surrounding the issue, revealing the raw emotions at play in this ongoing controversy.
Caught on camera in an unguarded moment, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan vented her frustrations about the extensive media coverage of the deteriorating concrete crisis. In a candid moment captured by ITV News as cameras were being adjusted for additional shots, Ms. Keegan, unaware her microphone was still on, candidly criticized others and passionately asserted that the UK Government had gone to extraordinary lengths to address the concerns surrounding reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac). This emotional revelation sheds light on the intensity of the situation and the deep-seated emotions involved.