Anna Firth, MP for Southend West, and Mark Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, have challenged the Government for answers to help Essex schools at a special meeting of the Education Select Committee yesterday.
Firth, who called for the dedicated Committee meeting, put Kingsdown School front and centre, as she challenged the Government’s policy regarding the discovery of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) at Kingsdown School and the impact it is having on children, on staff and on over-stretched budgets. Francois was invited to join the meeting as a special guest due to having the most schools with RAAC issues in his constituency.
The special meeting, held on Firth’s request, aimed to scrutinise the Government’s policy for dealing with RAAC as well as the School’s Rebuilding Program, which aims at building 500 new schools before 2030.
Baroness Diana Barran, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Student Finance, today confirmed that Kingsdown, a particularly important case given its Special School status, is at the top of the list of priorities as a direct result of Firth’s work raising the attention of the Department to the problems it faces, and that it receives the attention of one of the Department for Education’s most senior caseworkers.
Both Firth and Francois have raised the issue of RAAC multiple times in the Chamber both at debates and oral questions, as well as meeting directly with the Baroness and her department in person. In preparation for yesterday’s special committee meeting Firth also visited Kingsdown School and was horrified to see that over 50% of the school is not in use, including specialist classrooms with adjustable lights and temperatures and the school kitchen, largely, due to the presence of RAAC in the corridors.
Firth pushed the Dfe for a firm date for the arrival of the three demountable classrooms needed to get all children back on site and for a firm long-term plan to return Kingdown School to full functionality.
Currently the school is partly housed in Eastwood Primary, and is unable to access more than 50% of the its facilities.
Firth has also secured the of 40 parking spaces for the staff of Kingsdown in the next-door David Lloyd, kindly provided by Paul Goddard, the manager of the centre.
Baroness Barran will also, following Firth’s invitation, be making a visit to Kingsdown School on Monday to see the location for the proposed remedial measures and to discuss longer-term plans for the safe provision of education for children with some of the most complex needs in the country.
In today’s meeting the Baroness noted that the local authorities – including the MPs - in Essex had ‘done an outstanding job’ in monitoring RAAC and responding to Government surveys. More than 300,000 students - nearly 1/3 - of all pupils experiencing RAAC-related disruption are based in the county.
Anna Firth MP said: "I am delighted that Baroness Barran will be visiting Kingsdown on Monday and for her to see in person the extent of the measures urgently needed for them to its full functionality. I am also very pleased to hear that Kingsdown was the first case mentioned in the Minister’s command meeting at the beginning of this process, and that their safety continues to be a top priority for the Government.
The whole community is behind Kingsdown, and what Louise Robinson headmistress has done these last three weeks is nothing short of a miracle. Paul Goddard has been incredible too, and I am delighted that we have been able to work together so quickly to secure the parking spaces for Kingsdown’s staff in order the remedial measures can be installed. My thanks also to Eastwood Primary, who have been so generous in helping our most vulnerable students retain teaching and care they desperately need in this very challenging time.''
Mark Francois MP said: "‘It is really important that we maintain a wartime footing on RAAC in order to ensure that our children – who have already missed school due to COVID and to strikes – are able to continue to learn. The dedicated Committee meeting was an excellent opportunity to allow us to ask the necessary questions of them and ensure that the challenges facing our schools are met quickly and adequately. The Department, Baroness Barran and Nick Gibb have worked very hard on this, and I thank again all the staff, pupils, parents and particularly heads, who have had to struggle hard with this."
Paul Goddard, Manager at David Lloyd said: "It’s fantastic to be able to help the local community in this way. We’ve worked with Kingsdown in the past and we are very proud to ensure their incredible team are able to continue to do their incredibly important work. We’re a community club and this is a great opportunity to put that further into practice."