Parents at school with collapse-risk concrete demand it is rebuilt

September 24, 2023 05:52 PM AEST | By PAMEDIA
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Parents of pupils at a leading secondary school which has largely had to shut due to the reinforced concrete crisis have started a campaign to have it rebuilt, saying “this is not the education our children deserve”.

St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham, a secondary school with 1,400 pupils, is regularly among the top-performing state schools at GCSE in the North East.

Last year it achieved an academic progress score of +0.47 at GCSE, the fourth highest in the North East out of 171 schools. It is expected to be second in the region when final results are published next month.

But reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) has been found in buildings across the site meaning children in most year groups have had to be taught online for four days a week since term started.

For those year groups allowed to come in to school on specific days, conditions are cramped with lessons being taught in corridors and some pupils using clipboards to lean on.

At an online meeting chaired by Durham’s Labour MP Mary Foy on Friday evening, parents expressed their fears for the future of the school if pupils cannot get back to the classroom full-time, worrying that staff will leave and enrolment will drop next year.

They also asked whether pupils studying GCSE and A-levels this year will be given special dispensation from the exam boards because their education has been so disrupted.

St Leonard’s is already on the government’s list of schools to be rebuilt and Ms Foy hoped the seriousness of the Raac problem would lead the Department for Education to promote it to the top of the queue.

School System Minister Baroness Barran, whose responsibilities include school capital investment, is due to visit St Leonard’s on Wednesday.

Parents, who have set up a group called Save St Leonard’s, plan to hold a peaceful demonstration outside the school, calling for medium and long-term solutions.

Claire Kelly, who has a son in year 10, said he has had just four days in school since term started.

She said: “Where he should be conversing with his peers in German lessons, performing in music and learning metalwork for engineering he is currently sat in front of a laptop at home on Teams.

“Practical science lessons in the school laboratories have ceased and PE, with its teamwork and physical exercise, has disappeared.”

On a day when his year group were in school she said there were not enough desks so he worked from a clipboard all day.

She said: “This is not the education that our children deserve.”

Amanda Race, whose son has just started in year 7, said: “Firstly, we are trying to get support from the DfE to ‘re-home’ our students to enable a return to normal face-to-face teaching in appropriate class sizes.

“Secondly, we are looking for the DfE to support the rebuild of the school.

“We learned from our MP that St Leonard’s are not even at the top of the rebuild list, yet are the only secondary school in the country who have not got a full face-to-face provision for their pupils.

“We need the DfE to approve the funds to rebuild and to expedite the timelines.”

During the online meeting on Friday, Ms Foy claimed the DfE initially told the school not to publicise exactly how bad the Raac was when the crisis first came to light last month, just days before the term was due to start.

Ms Foy said a price of £13m had been quoted for temporary portable classrooms.

It had previously been suggested the empty County Hall building across the road from the school could be used, but that those facilities were “completely inappropriate”, Ms Foy said.

The school is currently considering a plan to use Ushaw College, an 19th century former Catholic seminary, around four miles west of the site.

It is using a city centre hotel for some lessons and has been supported by Durham University with the offer of the use of science labs.

The DfE has been approached for comment.


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