Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) is a cheaper alternative to standard concrete. It was popular between the 1950s and 1990s in the construction of roofs, floors and walls. Many buildings today still contain RAAC panels, particularly hospitals and schools.
It is less durable than standard concrete and only has a lifespan of around 30 years. It is aerated, or ‘bubbly’, meaning it is susceptible to damage when water enters through these bubbles. This moisture can cause decay, rusting and thus weakening of the material.
The Government announced at the end of August that around 150 schools across the UK would be closed due to the critical condition of their RAAC and risk of collapse. By the middle of September, more schools had been found with RAAC, bringing the number to 174.
Some of the affected schools have other, safer buildings for lessons to take place in whilst the crumbling concrete is repaired. Not every school has the ability to do this however. They have to either use other local buildings, move pupils to other schools in the area or switch to online learning.
This takes time to set up and the Government can get it wrong. For example, Willowbrook Mead Primary Academy in Leicester told parents about “complex arrangements to send children from different year groups to two different schools, and give older children home-schooling”. As it turns out, the school was misinformed that RAAC was present in its buildings.
No matter how conscientiously schools approach the situation, every child in an affected school will face some form of disruption. Even a small change in the learning environment causes major distraction to their learning.
Where is the guidance?
There is no guidance as to how long the disruptions will last. Many young people remember the Covid-19 pandemic growing from ‘a few weeks off school’ to almost two years of disruption from regular education. The consequences of the pandemic have been significant, and who knows what impact this new crisis will have?
One estates manager has even said that children may have to learn in temporary school facilities for as long as a decade. That is a far greater period of disruption than the pandemic caused, and these temporary facilities as learning environments are unlikely to be as successful as the classrooms pupils are used to.
A headteacher of a school in Essex, speaking to GB News, said: “I think the key worry for them [parents] is that if you’ve got children […] doing exams […] or they were the children most affected by the pandemic, the worry is ‘oh there’s another thing that’s going to hit them and disrupt their education’.”
Dealing with lockdowns was hard enough
For almost every child in my school generation, school closures and online learning are familiar experiences. The Covid-19 period had a significant impact on us.
The pandemic was an incredibly tough time. As a current sixth-form student, I have experienced first-hand how lonely it is to not be able to see your friends every day, and how difficult it is to concentrate and motivate yourself when you work from home.
Whilst the relaxed approach to learning was fun for a while, many of us craved the feeling of learning together in a classroom again. You don’t realise how much you benefit from face-to-face discussion and regular social interaction with classmates until it is taken away from you.
As someone devoted to achieving the best academic results possible, remote learning caused a lot of stress for me, as I was beginning to study for my GCSEs during lockdown. I struggled to remain focused on the screen and found the concept of doing ‘homework’ at the same desk I had sat at all day to be difficult.
By the time we finally returned to school, many of my peers and I were behind in a lot of subjects, and the teachers had to bend over backwards trying to prepare us to take the first big exams of our lives, after facing over a year out of ‘proper’ lessons.
I can imagine how daunting the RAAC crisis must now be for those in affected schools who are entering their exam years. The stress of GCSEs and A Levels is enough – having to face it all without regular in-person teacher support is terrifying.
In the last month, the UK has seen a drop in grades for those receiving their GCSE and A-Level results. Many of my friends in the year above expressed their unexpected shock and disappointment about the grades they attained.
My peers and I have discussed the anxiety we felt upon entering sixth form, and how difficult it has been to begin one of the most important periods of your life whilst sitting at home by yourself. This fear is not helped by the backdrop of disappointing exam results we were bombarded with over the summer.
The pandemic is likely to have had a significant role in this drop, as the current exam generation faced some of the biggest disruptions to their critical learning periods. My seniors would have spent the bulk of their GCSE years and the first part of their A Levels out of school, with the teachers playing catch-up.
For these students, the educational disruption has impacted whether or not they get into university, as many have not achieved the grades required. However, several universities have been more generous in their decisions due to the pandemic, so this is not as severe an issue as it might seem.
If teenagers currently entering their exam years are forced to return to online learning, or study in temporary facilities (including marquees!), their future exam results are very likely to be impacted.
The Government has failed us
For my generation, the impacts of the pandemic have become a very major part of our lives. It is terrifying to imagine what further consequences this new era of educational disruption will have on us.
Yet again, this government has failed us and put a heavy dent in our futures.