“Deeply concerning level of chaos in the UK Government” over Actions to Deal with #RAAC in Schools

Orkney Islands Council has declared that there is no Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in any of the council’s properties in a statement released on 6th September 2023.

Governments at every level across the UK had been sharing information and guidance on the presence of RAAC in our public buildings. Without consulting with the Devolved Governments – who they had previously been working with – the UK Government’s Department of Education changed the actions it was taking over RAAC in schools in England in the light of new evidence which they had not shared with the other countries in the UK.

Across the UK RAAC has been used in many buildings. The UK Government has issued a list of state-funded schools, maintained nursery schools and further education (FE) colleges in England with confirmed RAAC , as of 30th August 2023.

The Department of Education which covers England (Education is a devolved power), had asked settings to vacate any space or building known to contain RAAC. 104 schools and colleges were advised to take spaces that are known to contain RAAC out of use. The Department for Education stressed (Wednesday 6 September) that the vast majority of schools remain unaffected. However, 20 settings have had to deliver a hybrid arrangement (some pupils learning offsite) and 4 have gone over to online learning.

Unterwerk2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) is a lightweight precast concrete material that is made from sand, cement, lime, and aluminium powder. RAAC has been a widely used building material because it is cheap, lightweight and provides good thermal insulation.

However, there are several structural deficiencies of RAAC, and the Building Research Establishment have previously raised concerns about cracking, excessive displacements and durability.

Trade unions, especially in education, have been sounding the alarm on this for some time. If RAAC is used in structural components without proper engineering and design considerations, it can lead to structural instability, potentially resulting in building failures or collapses. This could result in serious or even fatal injury.

What is happening in Scotland with RAAC?

In the Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety minutes: June 2023, published July 2023, it states:

  • the balance between public and private sector buildings, and how local authorities are dealing with abandoned buildings and absent landlords
  • the use of RAAC in housing
  • the likely overall costs of remediation across different sectors
  • where did liability sit for RAAC and whether or not there was a responsibility on the original developers
  • the risk management options for RAAC and how this impacts on the use of certain buildings

Shirley Ann Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice in the Scottish Government, made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 7th of September to update MSPs on what was happening in Scotland to deal with the issue of RAAC in our buildings.

In her statement the Cabinet Secretary laid out a timeline on the Scottish Government’s actions.

  • March 2022 The Institution of Structural Engineers publish guidance on RAAC which Scottish Government officials are made aware of.
  • July 2022, learning directorate officials made contact with Scottish heads of property services and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland to discuss RAAC
  • December 2022, NHS Scotland Assure commissioned a survey team to establish the extent and condition of RAAC across the national health service estate
  • Early summer 2023, officials met the Health and Safety Executive to discuss school estate matters, including RAAC, and met several local authorities individually to discuss their specific issues
  • July 2023 officials issued a RAAC survey to all local authorities via the SHOPS network.
  • 16 August 2023, the Deputy First Minister wrote to the UK Treasury seeking clarity on new capital funding to deal with RAAC
  • 3 September 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills wrote to the UK Secretary of State for Education to seek clarity on funding
  • 5 September 2023, officials met with the Director of the Institution of Structural Engineers, who stated that RAAC guidance remains unchanged.

Somerville stated that the recent announcement by the UK Government’s Department of Education about RAAC (see above) was only known about to the Scottish Government and other devolved countries through media reports. There had been no previous dialogue between the two Governments prior to this change.

The Cabinet Minister said:

“Events of recent weeks have highlighted a deeply concerning level of chaos in the UK Government, overseen by the Secretary of State for Education.

had and shoulders shot of Shirley Anne Somerville

“In what can only be described as a complete dereliction of duty, it was not until 18:56 on Sunday 3 September that the UK Government shared four pages of RAAC photographs dating as far back as 2018—not detailed or comprehensive structural reports but photographs with the bare minimum of supporting context. To be frank, the engagement has been insulting.”

And she confirmed that RAAC has been identified in 40 school buildings across Scotland, although in some of those schools it is in parts of buildings that have not been in use for some time. Mitigations have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of all.

And she continued:

” The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has confirmed that safety is the central consideration and that there is robust guidance that is followed by every local authority to ensure that those buildings are safe to be in for pupils, staff and the public.”

A few Local Authorities in Scotland have not yet completed surveys of the school estate for RAAC.

Not only schools are affected, and the cost to put these public buildings right will be considerable. Despite letters to the UK Government from the Scottish Government about additional revenue to deal with RAAC in public buildings, no reply has been received.

Shirley Anne Somerville said:

“The UK Government cannot put its head in the sand. New capital money has to be made available, including to the devolved Governments, to allow us to take any action that may be required. Anything else would be a dereliction of duty from the Prime Minister and the chancellor. “


The Welsh Government has also had a lack of communication from the UK Government over the recent action it has taken on RAAC in England. Two schools on Anglesey have been identified as having RAAC, Ysgol David Hughes and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi. There are no immediate risks or concerns. Both schools closed and the Welsh Government is now undertaking further work to verify the position across Wales and a review of the latest information held by local authorities is underway. The results are expected within the next two weeks.

In a statement Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language in the Welsh Government said:

“In July 2023 the UK Cabinet Office established the Cross-Government Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) Working Group, extending an invitation to the Welsh Government on the 21 August.  A Welsh Government official attended the Working Group’s second meeting on 24 August.  No new evidence in respect of RAAC risks or its management were raised at this meeting.

“On 31 August 2023 the UK Government announced new guidance on RAAC in education settings.  Since then, UK Government Ministers have repeatedly stated that a number of incidents happened over the Summer period which led to there being a heightened safety risk regarding the usage of RAAC.  

“At no point was this new evidence flagged to the Welsh Government.”

On the 1st of September 2023 the UK Department of Education verbally shared some of this new information to Welsh officials. Then on Sunday 3rd of September, at 6.57pm, the night before Welsh schools were to return from the summer break, some of the new evidence that had been developed over the school holidays in England was sent in writing to the Welsh Government.

Jeremy Miles said:

“It is hugely regrettable that the evidence that has apparently been developed over the summer has been withheld until the night before the first day back of term.  It is also incomplete, leaving us without the full rationale for the DfE’s sudden policy change towards the management of RAAC in schools. “

Fiona Grahame

2 replies »

  1. I totally agree with her comments. Holyrood should consider sending down at team to Westminster to help co-ordinate a response to address this issue. They could delegate it to those who managed the Ferguson Marine ferries project or the bottle recycling scheme or even the SNP party accounts.

Leave a Reply