The Unseen Danger of RAAC Concrete in UK Schools and Hospitals: A Call to Immediate Action
Danger of RAAC Concrete – The United Kingdom has long prided itself on a rich architectural history, a journey that has ventured from Gothic cathedrals to modern, avant-garde designs. In the wave of post-war reconstruction and the boom of the ’60s and ’70s, a particular material was introduced into the construction sector that seemed to hold immense promise.
Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC). Used prolifically in the building of schools and hospitals, RAAC was hailed as the material of the future.
However, the clock has run out on that future. The material’s propensity for degradation, leading to severe structural vulnerabilities, has turned RAAC from a symbol of progress into a ticking time bomb.
In an era where public safety is already strained by various challenges, the latent issues with RAAC in public buildings like schools and hospitals have turned into a grave concern.
This blog post aims to delve deep into the complexities of this issue, referencing the latest government guidance in the UK, to elucidate why immediate action is required.
What is RAAC?
Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, commonly known as RAAC, is a precast concrete that uses aluminium powder as its expanding agent.
Its lightweight properties, combined with good thermal and acoustic insulation capabilities, made it highly attractive for architects and builders in the post-war era.
But what looked like advantages now appear to be its Achilles’ heel.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the UK was facing an urgent need to expand its educational infrastructure. RAAC seemed like a godsend; it promised to be a cost-effective, easy-to-install solution that would let the government build schools quickly. Consequently, hundreds of educational buildings were erected using RAAC.
The same period saw a significant push for modernising healthcare facilities. RAAC was employed in various aspects of hospital construction, from ceilings and floors to key structural elements. Here, too, its lightweight and insulative properties were considered advantageous for creating comfortable, controlled environments.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in the UK has been intensifying its scrutiny of building materials in the wake of various safety incidents.
Most recently, it has focused its attention on the age-related deterioration of RAAC, leading to severe concerns over structural integrity.
Government guidance now includes detailed protocols for inspecting existing RAAC installations in schools and hospitals, including the use of sophisticated structural health monitoring technologies.
Risk Assessment Protocols
The government has explicitly instructed that RAAC panels be subjected to regular and rigorous checks. These include both visual inspections and more sophisticated structural health monitoring techniques such as ultrasound testing.
The Funding Issue
Government grants and funding schemes have been set up to assist schools and hospitals in the assessment and, if necessary, the replacement of RAAC panels.
However, these pots of money are often inadequate, leaving many institutions in a financial quandary.
The Danger of RAAC Concrete and Why it is a Grave Concern Now
RAAC panels, originally touted for their strength and durability, have shown alarming tendencies to deteriorate much earlier than anticipated.
The internal structure can degrade, particularly when subjected to moisture ingress or fluctuating temperatures, common phenomena in the British climate.
In hospitals and schools, where the safety of vulnerable populations—patients, children, the elderly—is at stake, structural failure is unthinkable but has unfortunately become a real possibility due to RAAC deterioration.
In schools, children are at risk, and in hospitals, both patients and life-saving equipment could be jeopardised.
What heightens the concern around RAAC is its propensity for sudden, catastrophic failure. Unlike other materials that might display visible signs of wear or damage, RAAC can look perfectly fine even when it is dangerously degraded, making timely intervention challenging.
For hospitals, the issue is even more complex due to the stringent regulatory environment surrounding healthcare facilities.
Structural repairs or replacements can trigger a slew of compliance requirements, affecting the hospital’s operation and patient care.
Danger of RAAC Concrete – Case Studies
Several schools have already had close calls involving RAAC panels. In some instances, partial ceiling collapses have occurred, fortunately during hours when students were not present.
These incidents serve as chilling reminders of what could go wrong.
According to Sky News in their article this weekend, the below is the list of schools affected:
Aston Manor Academy, Birmingham
No students are expected to be on the school site until at least 11 September.
Aylesford School, Warwick
A significant area of the school will be closed while work is carried out and only Year 7s will be taught on-site on Monday, with Year 12s returning from Wednesday. The primary school is not affected.
Buckhurst Hill Community Primary School, Essex
The school is closed until 11 September while alternative teaching arrangements are organised.
Buckton Fields Primary School, Northampton, East Midlands
Clacton County High School, Essex
The school will be closed for all year groups on Monday, 4 September, with different arrangements by year group for the rest of the week.
Claydon High School, Suffolk
The school is considering delaying reopening or a partial closure.
Corpus Christi Catholic School, London
Crossflatts Primary School, Bradford, West Yorkshire
East Bergholt High School, Colchester, Essex
The school is considering delaying its opening or only opening some areas and is expected to update parents on Monday.
East Tilbury Primary School, Essex
Some parts of the school will be closed, with Year 1 pupils moved to share a block with Reception and Year 2 pupils relocated to the sports hall.
Eldwick Primary School, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Farlingaye High School, Suffolk
Some classrooms are set to be out of action and the school might need to delay reopening.
Ferryhill School, County Durham
The start of the new school year has been delayed, the school says. New starters are expected to start a week late, with the rest being taught online.
Hadleigh High School, Hadleigh, Suffolk
The school is considering delaying its opening or only opening some areas and is expected to update parents on Monday.
Hockley Primary School, Essex
Honywood School, Colchester, Essex
Some 22 classrooms are expected to close with immediate effect, with some pupils to do online learning and a rota system for year groups attending school.
Kingsdown School, Southend, Essex
Mistley Norman Church of England Primary School, Essex
Our Lady’s Catholic High School, Fulwood, Lancashire
School to be closed Monday, 4 September and Tuesday, 5 September.
Pershore High School, Pershore, Worcestershire
Ravens Academy, Clacton-On-Sea, Essex
The school will be closed for two days after RAAC was found in a roof.
Scalby School, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Springfield Primary School, Chelmsford, Essex
St Anne’s Catholic Primary School, Harlow Green, Tyne and Wear
St Bede’s Catholic School and Byron Sixth Form College, Easington, County Durham
Opening delayed until 5 September.
St Bernard’s School, Bolton, Greater Manchester
St Clere’s School, Stanford-le-Hope, Essex
Parts of the school will be closed, with years 7, 11 and 12 prioritised for face to face learning.
St Francis Catholic Primary School, Ascot, Berkshire
St James Catholic School, Hebburn, Tyne and Wear
St John Bosco Catholic Primary School, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear
The school will be closed on Tuesday, 5 September, on which date further information is expected to be provided.
St Leonard’s School, Durham, County Durham
The school will not reopen for its first week after RAAC was found in panels used in the construction of the school building.
St Mary Magdalene Academy, London
St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School, Darlington, County Durham
The school will not reopen until at least 11 September.
St Thomas More Catholic Comprehensive, Eltham, London
St William of York Catholic Primary School, Bolton, York
The school is putting up temporary support structures and staff hope to reopen to as many pupils as possible on 11 September.
Thameside Primary school, Essex
Parts of the school have been closed, with a significant number of teaching spaces impacted. Expects its reopening to students to be delayed until 11 September.
The Appleton School, Benfleet, Essex
Three areas have been closed and three year groups are not expected to be back to school this week.
The Billericay School, Billericay, Essex
Arrangements have been made for some years to be on site while others learn online.
The Bromfords School, Wickford, Essex
The Gilberd School, Colchester, Essex
Years 8-11 will return to school on 11 September, with Year 7 pupils returning a day later.
Thurstable School, Essex
The school’s website has set out a phased reopening, with some years coming in and work also set online.
Waddesdon Church of England School, Buckinghamshire
Willowbrook Mead Primary Academy, Leicester
The school says it will be closed on Monday, 4 September.
Wood Green Academy, Wednesbury, West Midlands
The school says disruption to the start of term is possible and is conducting further investigative work.
Woodville Primary School, Chelmsford, Essex
School closed until 11 September.
Other schools reportedly affected:
Abbey Lane Primary School, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Altrincham College, Timperley, Manchester
Arthur Bugler Primary School, Stanford-le-Hope, Essex
Baynards Primary School, Essex
Canon Slade School, Bolton, Greater Manchester
Carmel College, Darlington
Carnarvon Primary School, Bingham, Nottinghamshire
Cherry Tree Academy, Colchester, Essex
Cleeve Park School, Sidcup, London
Cockermouth School, Cumbria
Cranbourne, Basingstoke, Hampshire
Donnington Wood Infant School and Nursery, Donnington, Shropshire
Fulwood Academy, Fulwood, Preston
Greenway Junior School, Horsham, West Sussex
Holy Trinity Catholic Academy, Newark, Nottinghamshire
Jerounds Primary School, Harlow, Essex
Katherines Primary Academy, Harlow, Essex
Mayflower Primary School, Leicester
Myton School, Warwick
Northampton International Academy, Northampton, West Midlands
Outwoods Primary School, Atherstone, Warwickshire
Parks Primary School, Leicester
Roding Valley High School, Loughton, Essex
Sale Grammar School, Sale, Manchester
St Andrews Junior School, Hatfield Peverel, Essex
The school is reportedly closed until at least mid-September.
St Bartholomew’s Catholic Primary School, Swanley, Kent
St Benet’s Catholic Primary School, Ouston, County Durham
St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, Harrow, London
Stanway Fiveways Primary School, Colchester, Essex
Tendring Technology College, Essex
The Coopers Company and Coborn School, Upminster, London
The Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls, Acton, London
The Link School, Beddington, London
The Ramsey Academy, Halstead, Essex
Thomas Lord Audley School, Colchester, Essex
White Hall Academy, Clacton, Essex
Winter Gardens Academy, Canvey Island, Essex
Wyburns Primary School, Rayleigh, Essex
Hospitals have faced temporary closures or relocation of patients due to emergency repair works on RAAC elements. These disruptions have had a cascading effect on healthcare delivery, affecting surgeries, treatments, and overall patient care.
The use and subsequent failure of RAAC can also have serious legal consequences. Schools and hospitals have a duty of care to their students, staff, and patients. Structural failures could lead to negligence claims, putting further financial strain on these institutions.
The Road Ahead
Public Awareness and Action
While the government has certainly taken steps to tackle the issue, public involvement is crucial. Parents, teachers, and healthcare workers need to be informed and vigilant. Social pressure can catalyse the government’s response, ensuring that safety remains a top priority.
Engineers, architects, and builders need more training and resources to understand the complexities of aging RAAC. This should become a part of the curriculum in universities as well as professional training programmes.
R&D in Building Materials
The RAAC fiasco underscores the need for rigorous, long-term testing of new building materials. Research and development in this sector must go beyond immediate benefits and consider long-term sustainability and safety.
Danger of RAAC Concrete – Conclusion
The use of RAAC in the construction of schools and hospitals in the UK is a ticking time bomb that needs immediate defusing. With clear indications of structural vulnerabilities, coupled with the potential for catastrophic failures, the material poses a grave concern for public safety. Although the government has provided guidelines and some financial assistance for assessing and remedying the issues surrounding RAAC, it’s far from sufficient. It is incumbent upon us—as parents, educators, healthcare providers, and responsible citizens—to be vigilant and advocate for immediate, effective action. The well-being of our children, the infirm, and indeed our society, hinges on addressing this issue promptly and comprehensively.
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