Last reviewed 28 June 2023

More than a third (24,000) of English school buildings are past their estimated initial design life, and the risk of injury or death from a school building collapse has been assessed as “very likely and critical” by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The UK’s independent public spending watchdog’s latest report, Condition of School Buildings, states that around 700,000 children in England are studying in schools requiring major rebuilding or refurbishment which can negatively impact pupil attainment and teacher retention.

Available at https://www.nao.org.uk, the report concludes that overall, the condition of the school estate is declining and there are safety concerns about some types of buildings.

Specifically, the NAO highlights ongoing concerns with the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) — a lightweight form of concrete prone to failure, used between the 1950s and mid-1990s.

It points out that the Department for Education (DfE) has been considering the potential risk posed by RAAC since late 2018, following a school roof collapse.

By May 2023, 6300 (42%) of the schools on which the DfE has chosen to focus had completed work to establish if it was present. At that point, through questionnaire responses and wider work, the DfE identified RAAC may be present in 572 schools.

The Department has allocated £6 million for specialists to investigate 600 schools potentially affected by RAAC. By May 2023, 196 investigations had been conducted, with the concrete confirmed in 65 schools.

More positively, the report found that the DfE had collected better evidence on the condition of the whole estate. This included identifying 13,800 system-built blocks — almost all containing asbestos.

In September 2022, it approved plans for a structural assessment of 200 system-built blocks to help better understand the risks but the NAO notes that none had been conducted as its report went to publication.

“In 2017, we reported that DfE was making progress in improving school buildings in the worst condition,” the NAO said. “But we also found that the school estate’s overall condition was expected to worsen as buildings in poor, but not the worst, condition deteriorated further.”