Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language
In Wales, local authorities were made aware of the potential issue with RAAC through the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) in February 2020 following a safety alert published in 2019 by the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS). Local authorities have a statutory duty to assess condition and safety risks including structural integrity for all buildings within their school estate and to maintain records.
After the UK Government’s Department for Education shared new evidence about RAAC on 3 September 2023, we have been working closely with local authorities, the WLGA, Colegau Cymru, and Higher Education Funding Council Wales (HEFCW) to assess the presence of RAAC in education buildings as swiftly as possible.
To date (as of 13 December) more than 95% of all state-funded schools have been assessed by local authorities on a prioritised basis, with the remaining schools to be assessed in the coming weeks. A small number of schools require the opening up of certain areas by asbestos specialists to assess whether there is any presence of RAAC, which will take the completion of surveys into January 2024.
Currently, only five schools have been identified as containing RAAC – two schools on Anglesey, one in Conwy, one in Denbighshire and one in Newport. The local authorities in these instances have arranged for structural engineers to urgently survey and assess the schools and appoint contractors to carry out mitigation works.
In England, the Department for Education has identified 231 education institutions affected by RAAC, as of November 27.
The two secondary schools on Anglesey identified RAAC in roof structures. Ysgol David Hughes has now partially, and safely, reopened to all learners and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi has been able to partially open for pupils with a blend of face-to-face lessons and online learning. It is hoped all pupils will return to face-to-face teaching on 10 January 2024 ahead of schedule. Mitigation works will continue in both school next term.
Conwy Council took the decision to temporarily close Ysgol Maes Owen as a precautionary measure while structural engineers carried out investigation and mitigation works to the RAAC identified in a pitched roof. The school initially opened on a rotation basis before reopening fully to all pupils.
RAAC was identified in areas of a flat roof in Ysgol Trefnant in Denbighshire following a detailed inspection. Denbighshire Council, as a precautionary measure, took the decision to temporarily close the school whilst further mitigation works were completed.
Eveswell Primary, in Newport, identified RAAC in floors to an area of the school where, again, structural engineers carried out urgent assessment and contractors were appointed to undertake remedial works before allowing pupils back to these areas.
Further work can now be planned, where necessary, to remove the RAAC in a safe and controlled manner.
Three colleges; Cardiff and Vale, NPTC Group of Colleges and Gower College Swansea, and two universities; Cardiff and Bangor, have also identified buildings within their campuses containing RAAC – and all are taking action to address the problem.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank staff, learners and parents for their patience and support. I also know that colleagues have been working tirelessly to try to resolve a whole host of challenging and complex matters linked to RAAC.
Over the last nine years, Wales has had an extensive programme for the refurbishment and building of new schools and colleges, upgrading and replacing those which are most in need of replacement for safety and quality reasons. This is a record to be proud of. While education capital spending in England has been significantly cut, our Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme – previously known as the 21st Century Schools and Colleges programme – is delivering the biggest new school and further education building programme in Wales since the 1960s to address an ageing estate.
Such is the commitment to improving facilities for our learners, the Welsh Government increased the level of capital funding available through the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme to £300m annually for the period 2022-23 to 2024-25, representing an increase of 33% when compared to the 2021-22 baseline.
To date more than £2.35bn has been targeted towards new-build and major refurbishment projects.
Of the 1,463 state-maintained schools in Wales, more than 170 schools benefitted from this investment under the first wave of investment and 200 schools and colleges are benefiting from the current wave. This, together with the fact that the Welsh Government has invested £203m in capital maintenance over the last 4 years means that local authorities and further education institutions in Wales have been able to address key aspects of maintenance to their schools and colleges. When considering RAAC, planned maintenance of school and college buildings and addressing water ingress is confirmed as a key criteria in maintaining their structural integrity. The funding has also enabled local authorities and further education institutions to undertake the removal of asbestos in schools and colleges which has aided access for the identification and assessment of RAAC.