Special school to reopen after RAAC closure

A special school in Southend-on-Sea, which has been closed by the Department for Education because of safety concerns over RAAC can finally reopen to students.

Cllr Helen Boyd standing outside Kingsdown School.

A special school in Southend-on-Sea, which has been closed by the Department for Education because of safety concerns over RAAC can finally reopen to students.

Kingsdown School will reopen to students on Monday 11 September, just 12 days after being told it could not reopen for the new academic school term because of safety fears relating to the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete or RAAC.

The complete closure of the main building meant staff couldn't retrieve vital equipment needed to run lessons safely.

Now risk assessments have been completed by structural engineers and multiple mitigations put in place to allow students to return on Monday. These measures include:

  • the use of two unoccupied classrooms in neighbouring Eastwood Primary School
  • portable toilets for staff
  • a portacabin to use for a staff room
  • reopening the ten classrooms on site, which are unaffected by RAAC
  • the relocation of the administration block to a corridor

The cost of the mitigations is being covered by the Department for Education (DfE).

Louise Robinson, headteacher of Kingsdown School, said: “It is wonderful to finally be able to welcome our students back after an incredibly stressful and draining few weeks. I know the rest of the staff and I cannot wait to see their lovely faces.

“The situation we have found ourselves in is far from ideal but as a headteacher, my priority throughout all of this has been the children and their families. As cliched as it is, we are a family at Kingsdown, and as our children have complex needs it was especially difficult to accept that some students might not understand why they could not return to school and see their friends and teachers.

“We have worked closely with DfE, Southend-on-Sea City Council, parents, and partner organisations, to get our children back into the classroom safely, as quickly and with as little disruption, as possible.

“As well as Eastwood Primary helping, many early years education settings were able to step in and continue supporting the children who were starting reception and I want to thank them and others within the community, for their comradery and offers of help.

“I also want to say thank you to our parents who have been so understanding and patient, during a stressful time of uncertainty. Despite their worries for their children, they have allowed us the time and space to solve the issues and have shown nothing but support.”

The mitigations in place are a short-term solution and the school and council will continue working with DfE to fix the safety concerns with RAAC on a long-term basis.
It is not yet known what those long-term solutions could be.

Cllr Helen Boyd, cabinet member for children's service, education, and learning, said: “The school staff have been incredible in their response to this issue and the support they have provided their children and families.

“Council staff too, in education, SEND and children's social services have also worked to offer support where and when needed to families affected and I am so proud of the response from all concerned, including the partner organisations that have offered help and assistance.

“It truly shows the community spirit of Southend that when in need, we come together to support one another. We will continue to work with DfE and the school on a long-term plan and will update parents and the wider community as soon as we are able. But in the meantime, let's celebrate the return of school for Kingsdown students and the incredible achievement of the school staff in just 12 days.”

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete or RAAC, which was used in building construction between the mid-1950's and mid-1990's, has been the subject of intense national scrutiny this past week.

RAAC inspections have been carried out at all UK schools since March 2023 and Kingsdown was identified as having RAAC within its main building and was being monitored.
However, over the summer the DFE became aware that RAAC can fail without warning and have changed their policy. All buildings which contain RAAC must now be taken out of use until mitigations are put in place to make the buildings safe. Kingsdown School was told to close its main building by DfE on Thursday 31 August.

For more information about RAAC visit the Department for Education website.

Published: 8th September 2023

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