How do we know our children are safe at school?

Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022
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Are your children safe at school?

Scrolling through my Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete dominated Twitter (X) feed this morning, this tweet from London Assembly member Hina Bokhari stopped me in my tracks…

Is your child Safe at School?

The same question repeated over and over in my head: “How does she know her son is safe at school today?”

Thousands of children, who attended school last term, are now sitting at home due to the RAAC crisis. Their parents probably thought the same as Hina.

Millions of parents assume that the regulatory system(s) applied to schools (Ofsted, HSE, DfE etc) would cumulatively Keep Children Safe in Education. The events of the last week have demonstrated this to be false reassurance.

Parental expectations

A primary role of the Government is to keep us safe. They do this by ensuring regulatory frameworks are suitable, sufficient, and proportionate. In short, they need to keep an eye on known and emerging risks to ensure (as far as possible) that we don’t suffer avoidable harm.

It is totally unacceptable for the Government and their regulators to suppress or ignore significant known risks. We only have to look at the Grenfell Inquiry to understand the impact of cover-up, obfuscation, and the wilful silencing of people warning of fire safety risks.

The Education Secretary initially tried to play down the severity of the RAAC crisis when the news broke. However, she and her officials have known about the structural risks presented by RAAC for a very long time. The Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures UK (CROSS) team published a report on RAAC Planks in Schools in April 2020.

DfE officials were acutely aware of the need to rebuild schools. They proposed a (already inadequate) programme for 100 school rebuilds which then Chancellor Rishi Sunak is accused of slashing in half to 50.

The way forward

In response to the Grenfell tragedy, it is now the case that residents of a brand new seven storey block of flats benefit from greater building safety regulations than is applicable to a school containing thousands of children.

From 1st October 2023, the Building Safety Act commences and right now it only applies to Higher-Risk Residential Buildings (residential blocks over 18m or 6 storeys in height) 

This new regime establishes the Building Safety Regulator. It compels those responsible for buildings in scope to register their buildings and maintain a Golden Thread of building information. They must also prove the safety of their buildings to the regulator in the form of a Building Safety Case.

Failure to adhere to the new regulations can lead to unlimited fines and imprisonment.

There is no reason why we couldn’t have Safety Cases in schools too. Just because a school is COMPLIANT with regulations does not mean it is SAFE.

My Message to the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan:

“Don’t procrastinate, just do it without delay. It is not too late to recover from the situation and prove to parents like Hina that their children are actually safe at school

Matt Hodges-Long, CEO, Building Safety Register