Like many perhaps I am appalled to discover that the British government has not taken the necessary steps to maintain its educational estate. Like many too, I am not overly surprised… but surely maintaining a service should be a legal minimum requirement for government; unless of course they explicitly state otherwise in their manifesto?
I have written previously concerning the fact that I believe that there should be a measurable job description for our political representatives, a basic minimum of measures against which they can be empirically assessed. If this point can be agreed, then doesn’t it also make sense that our governments should be assessed in such a way?
Last week, the British government announced that it would likely have to close those areas in schools which are considered at risk through the presence of aerated concrete (RAAC). The risk of collapse of buildings using this construction material is now considered too great of a threat to life and limb and so 3 days before the start of the new school year, schools have been instructed to seek alternative locations/ classrooms or where not possible, to run their education via remote learning mechanisms.
The problems caused by the use of this material have been known since at least 1994, and its use in schools was banned 2 years later. Active monitoring of the presence of RAAC in schools began in 2018 after part of a ceiling collapsed in a school in Kent. Estimates vary concerning the life-span of RAAC, however according to estimates is typically 20-30 years. In 2019, a formal warning was announced by the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) that any RAAC which pre-dated 1980 had now reached the end of its safe structural life. The government report concluded later that some 300-400 schools would need to be rebuilt per year in order to address the issue. To which the government response was to commit to 500 over 10 years (50 a year). I have no information of how many schools have actually been brought up to standard/ rebuilt since 2019, however a report in May estimated that RAAC was present in more than 500 schools of the 6300 inspected. (For context, there are more than 22,000 schools in England.)
Clearly then, whatever steps were taken, were totally inadequate…
But even if we completely and utterly disregard the issue of aerated concrete… there are more than 22,000 schools in England, most of which (I imagine) have been built using some form of concrete. I won’t post all of the links here, since many are contradictory – however there does seem to be a consensus that 65-100 years is a good lifespan for concrete. Now we have 22,000 schools, built with a product which can last up to 100 years… unless my maths are wrong, this would mean that statistically speaking, it is reasonable to expect that some 200-odd schools per year would need to be rebuilt.
The UK government elected to target 50… in a crisis… with lives at risk.
With lives at risk.
This is not politics, this is just counting.
Quite frankly, it should be a criminal offence for any governing body not to maintain public environments to the appropriate safety standards. It is surely criminal negligence for a governing body to not take all steps to ensure that public environments are fit for purpose.
I understand that in a political field, if a particular party indicates explicitly that they will not maintain such conditions, or that they will change the standards and conditions – and are voted in on such a policy, then fine… the electorate get what they paid for. If a political party wishes to stand up and say we will rebuild 50 schools a year (when the statistical need is 240) then fine… but this needs to be transparent so that the public can decide. However in the absence of any specific and clearly announced policy of this type, it must be considered inherent that the governance of the country includes the maintenance of basic standards.
The same should be true for all public services: we should know as a public how many doctors are needed to manage the NHS, how many nurses, how many dentists… Empirical data should be used for these assessments – empirical data which we have! Let’s cut out the nebulous discussions around how much more investment is being put it, let’s measure the effectiveness of our services against set, visible definitions. Are there 5 nurses for every 1,000 head of population or are there not? These definitions can change with both time and technology, but at least they will provide the public with the benchmark to allow the population to hold politicians to account’ (as politicians are so fond of saying) at the next election.
Politics is possibly the most important feature of our lives, and yet we continue to meander along without any real judgement of how good or bad our representatives are: we leave everything to ambiguous, subjective judgements.