Posted: Mon 4th Sep 2023

Two Anglesey schools closed due to concrete safety fears

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Monday, Sep 4th, 2023

Two schools on Anglesey have been closed amid concerns about the safety of concrete.

Ysgol David Hughes in Menai Bridge and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi in Holyhead are the two secondary schools affected following the discovery of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) within the buildings.

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete and was used in the construction of schools, colleges, and other buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s.

Its presence has been confirmed in a range of public sector properties across the United Kingdom including schools and hospitals.

In England, it has led to the closure of more than 150 schools on the eve of the start of the new school year.

While work to assess the scale of the problem in Wales continues, it has been agreed to temporarily close Ysgol David Hughes and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi so that further safety inspections can be carried out.

The decision was made following urgent discussions with the Welsh Government and taking into consideration advice provided to English schools by the UK Government

Anglesey Council leader, Councillor Llinos Medi said: “This is an evolving and emerging national issue. We appreciate this will be disappointing for all staff and pupils.

“However, their safety is our main priority. We are putting plans in place for Ysgol David Hughes and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi to minimise any disruption to children’s education.

“We are working closely with the headteachers and staff at the affected schools. The schools will communicate further updates with parents/guardians and young people. Again, our main priority is to ensure the safety of all our staff and young people.”

Welsh Government Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said, “Our main concern is the safety of pupils and staff. Since we became aware of these developments, we have been working urgently with local authorities and WLGA to make sure pupils and staff can go back to school safely.

“We’re making these decisions together to keep staff and pupils safe. Anglesey Council and the schools are doing everything they can to minimise the impact on pupils. If any of this action affects you, you will hear directly from your school.”

The UK Government is said to have been aware of some of the issues with RAAC since the 1990s and the Welsh Government has been working with Westminster since 2018 to manage the risk.

In Wales, local authorities were made aware of potential problems through the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) in February 2020 following a safety alert published by the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS).

Councils have a statutory duty to assess safety risks including the structural integrity of all school buildings and to maintain records.

Details of the presence of RAAC in school have been requested by the Welsh Government this year and a condition and energy survey of all state funded schools and colleges was commissioned in May.

The devolved government said the nature of the survey would highlight any structures suspected of containing RAAC for further inspection by specialist structural engineers.

Mr Miles said that despite the UK Government announcing new guidance on August 31st leading to the closure of schools in England, no issues were flagged with the Welsh Government.

This is despite ministers in Westminster stating that a number of incidents have happened over the summer period which led to a heightened safety risk regarding the usage of RAAC.

Mr Miles said some of the evidence was not received until last night (Sunday, 3rd September).

He 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.

“We continue to request detailed structural engineer reports that clearly set out the timeline and technical analysis of events leading up to last Thursday’s announcement of school closures.

“This can then be reviewed by officials and shared with local authorities who have statutory responsibility for school buildings in Wales.

“While only partial, the new evidence indicates that there may need to be a change in the approach towards how RAAC safety is undertaken and the health and safety management approach we may need to take.”

He added: “In response to last week’s announcement in England, we have been in contact with all local authorities in Wales over recent days.

“In these discussions, only two schools have been identified as having RAAC and both schools have been managing the parts of their buildings which contain RAAC safely, in accordance with expert advice.

“We are undertaking further work to verify the position across Wales and a review of the latest information held by local authorities is underway. We expect to have the results of that within the next two weeks.”

Specialist structural engineers will then be asked to undertake an urgent appraisal of any newly identified instances as to the presence of RAAC in schools. It’s anticipated this work will be completed by the end of December.

In relation to the situation on Anglesey, Mr Miles said: “Officials from Ynys Mon met at 8am this morning with their technical advisers to reassess the operation of the relevant buildings in light of that new information.

“Based on the latest information Ynys Mon has made the difficult decision to temporarily close both schools to learners, who were due to return to school tomorrow, until a full assessment of the situation is undertaken this week.

“The local authority is working with the headteachers of the two schools, Ysgol David Hughes and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi, to inform parents and carers that both schools will be temporarily closed for learners so that further safety inspections can be carried out and that alternative planning can take place.

“Whilst this will be extremely difficult for parents and carers at such short notice, the health and safety of learners, teachers, staff, parents and carers remains the key priority.

“Indeed, we share the frustration at this unfortunate situation to which both the Welsh Government and Ynys Mon faced in light of the new information received from the DfE only yesterday evening.”

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