More than 100 UK schools are at risk of collapse and may not open on time, the UK Government announced on Thursday night. The roofs and walls of these schools are made of RAAC, a type of cement that deteriorates rapidly. The UK Government has announced that school buildings containing RAAC cannot be opened unless action is taken. Therefore, at least 104 buildings must be shored up or partially demolished and rebuilt before the school can open. The exact number of students affected, i.e. those whose education will be reduced or non-existent, is unknown.
RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) was a type of construction material used in various building applications from the 1950s to the 1980s, particularly in the United Kingdom. Its light weight and insulating properties made it popular and from the 1950s to the 1980s it was used in a variety of UK government buildings, including schools, police stations, hospitals and other government buildings. However, in the 1990s it was discovered that RAAC had a lifespan of only 30 years. Since this discovery, the use of RAAC has been discontinued, but it is still used in many buildings in the UK. The exact number of buildings affected is unknown. In September last year, the Local Government Association stated in a safety briefing that “all RAACs have passed their expiry date and are at risk of collapse”.
In recent years efforts have been made in the UK to assess and manage the risks associated with existing buildings containing RAACs, particularly in education and public buildings. Buildings containing RAACs are monitored and corrective action is taken to ensure the safety of occupants.
The 104 schools that did not open on Monday are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Local Government Association, RAAC looks a lot like normal cement and is often hidden behind suspended ceilings. It’s not just government buildings that are at risk. Matt Byatt, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, told The Guardian that RAAC can be found in ‘office buildings, sports facilities, shopping areas and hotels’. ‘Nobody knows where they are until you start looking for them,’ he said. In 2022, there were a total of 24,413 schools in the UK. The government is conducting an inventory but it is not known when this will be done. Earlier this year, 50 school buildings, including RAACs, were supported and allowed to open.