Government ministers have been told to “get a grip” on their plans to make schools safe from aerated concrete as millions of pupils return to school this week.
More than 100 schools and colleges have been told by the government to fully or partially shut buildings due to the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
But many more classrooms could be forced to shut as further assessments are made of the risks, the government admitted.
There is also a worsening row over who will pick up the bill for the repairs.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he would “spend what it takes” to address the problem, but Treasury sources later said money for repairs would come from the Department for Education’s (DfE) existing capital budget.
Unions have been angered by uncertainty about which costs will be covered by government, calling for transparency on whether headteachers will be reimbursed for mitigation expenditure.
Ministers have also promised to publish a list of the schools affected “in due course” but Labour has threatened to force a vote to compel its publication next week.
Shadow secretary for education Bridget Phillipson said this morning: “We can’t be confident that we will know the full picture because ministers are refusing to publish the full list of schools affected.
“It’s a scandal that parents are being left in the dark just at the point of a new school term starting.”
“Ministers need to be upfront, publish that list, and need to get a grip,” Ms Phillipson added.
“If they refuse to do so, we will force a vote in the House of Commons this week and make it happen so parents aren’t left in the dark.
“I’m really concerned about the disruption that children are facing.
“It’s vital that ministers publish the full list of schools so parents can have absolute confidence that their child’s school is safe.”
Remote learning for children unable to access face-to-face lessons should last “days, not weeks”, the government has said, but ministers have not said exactly when the disruption might ease.
Education leaders have been encouraged to use community centres, empty office buildings or other schools while structural supports are installed to mitigate the risk of collapse.
Concerns about RAAC – a lightweight concrete used up until the mid-1990s – in public buildings were raised in 2018, prompting accusations that ministers have failed to act quickly enough.
Experts have warned that the risks may extend beyond schools to hospitals, court buildings and prisons, where the material is present.
Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also being assessed for RAAC.
The Scottish government said it is present in 35 schools, but that none posed an “immediate risk” to pupil safety.
The Welsh government said councils and colleges have not reported any presence of RAAC.