The head of a Church of England academies trust has told Premier Christian News that it’s fair to ask questions about why the dangers of RAAC concrete weren’t raised earlier with schools.

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Concerns over the aerated material have forced more than a hundred schools in England to either partially or fully close while repairs are carried out.

Oliver Burwood is CEO of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust. One of its schools - Thomas Bullock Primary - has been found to have RAAC in its school hall. He says they were aware of its presence and were carrying out remedial work - but they were not told it was a matter of urgency until the government announcement on 31st August.

“When we discovered it, it was just part of our general ongoing maintenance survey and work. We take that really seriously; we’ve been working through the designated Department for Education (DofE) project on trying to identify RAAC, and having identified it, we had a grading for it which wasn’t critical. So, the sensible approach with the DofE, was that we would carry out the remedial works that the survey suggested in the autumn term. And we would keep a watching brief until we had that remedial work done.

“It became clear on 31st August that the criticality of RAAC had increased, and it went from being something that was felt could be managed to something which meant any building containing RAAC shouldn’t be used by schools. So that felt very different. We were able to get the school hall shut the next day and obviously, no children were back by that point.

“I think the general discontent is around that change on the 31st August because suddenly, an issue which feels like it isn’t critical becomes critical.

“If you’re dealing with something that has a limited lifespan, and that’s what people have known for some time about RAAC, you should really be tracking back and saying, ‘right, when is this coming up in our estate and how worried are we?’ So I think that’s where the discontent comes in.

“It didn’t suddenly become unsafe on the 31st of August, it has been used for a number of years. Now, within the guidance we had and what we understood, that was fine, but perhaps it wasn’t fine. And that’s where the questions are being asked - and I think fairly being asked - about shouldn’t have it been done earlier?”

Oliver Burwood says he is grateful that only the school hall at Thomas Bullock has been affected and is urging prayers for schools which have had to close or partially close because of the crisis.