Concrete expert Warren Thomas has said that many more schools than the current total given by ministers could be affected by dangerous Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC).
He was asked first of all why that type of concrete was ever used given the danger of collapse, he said: “I think they knew it was weaker – it was just quite nice cheap, lightweight construction material that could be used in schools so it meant there was loading on the walls. It was just a cheaper type of construction.”
Asked if schools should have been notified sooner, he said the surveys required to test schools have been “a bit of a mess”.
He said testing this type of concrete requires a “phased approach” – firstly, checking that that type of concrete is present, and secondly, ascertaining its condition to see if it actually needs knocking down.
Mr Thomas also said that the guidance produced by the Department for Education for school leaders “isn’t clear”, and added: “If you’re giving that to headteachers, it isn’t an easy way of doing things.”
He said he is about to test around 20 schools in London, and said: “I think the figures that have been spouted on the news yesterday [about the number of schools affected] could be the tip of the iceberg because I don’t think 50% of the schools have been tested.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that accurate records of public construction projects have not been kept over the years, meaning it is not as simple as just looking at the blueprints.
In terms of the speed of getting schools back open, it could be a lengthy process due to procurement time, the availability o funding, and finding contractors to do the work required.
“This is not going to be weeks, it’s going to be months at least,” he added.