Bedford Modern School delays return of pupils to deal with RAAC issues

M J Richardson / Entrance to Bedford Modern School / CC BY-SA 2.0
mage: M J Richardson / Entrance to Bedford Modern School / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bedford Modern School (BMS), part of the Harpur Trust, has confirmed that pupils will not be returning to the school until Thursday after surveys revealed that older parts of the buildings contain reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

The 1,200 students were due to return for the Autumn Term tomorrow (Wednesday), but following government guidance, this will be delayed by a day.

In a report published on 31 August, just days before the new school term was due to begin, the Department for Education (DoE) issued guidance for schools with “confirmed RAAC”, stating that they should “vacate and restrict access to spaces [which] should remain out of use until appropriate mitigations are in place.”

RAAC is a lightweight material used mostly in flat roofing between the 1950s and 1990s. It was also used in floors and walls. It is quicker, easier and cheaper to install than standard concrete, but has a shorter life-span of around 30 years.

Unlike standard concrete, when exposed to water, RAAC is susceptible to sturctural failure. The Health and Safety Executive says RAAC is now beyond its lifespan and may “collapse with little or no notice”.

While RACC has been identified in 156 schools in England, BMS is the only school in the Borough to be affected so far. Staff have been praised for their outstanding efforts to adapt to the situation.

Andrew Whomsley, Acting Head at Bedford Modern School, told the Bedford Independent: “There are several areas at Bedford Modern School which were built in the 1970s using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

“We had already planned for structural surveys to take place and were adopting a staged risk approach to the task.

“However, further to the urgent government directive last week we had no choice but to close those areas concerned with immediate effect.”

The school has erected temporary marquees around the site to increase teaching space and re-purposed other areas as classrooms while they investigate a more permanent solution.

“Staff have been working around the clock to ensure that arrangements are in place to welcome all students back this week. Whilst the safety of students and staff must be a priority, and despite this challenging situation, we will continue to provide an excellent education for all.”

Professor Chris Goodier, director of Loughborough University’s Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering said: “Tens of 1000s of these structural panels exist across a broad cross-section of buildings, many constructed in the 1960s and 70s, and many are showing signs of wear and tear and deterioration.

“The vast majority form the roof of the structure, usually flat, and hence are difficult to access, survey, maintain and replace.”

David Steadman, Harpur Trust Chief Executive Officer, said: “We are working closely with Bedford Modern School to ensure temporary arrangements have been put into place so lessons can continue and students are able to return this week.

“Staff at the school have been working tirelessly to come up with solutions, as the education of the children is paramount, whilst the school prioritises the safety of students and staff.

“We are confident the school will continue to provide an outstanding education where all students can flourish.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Cllr Henry Vann confirmed that at the Children’s Services Committee yesterday (Monday), the council stated that intrusive surveys are being carried out at other schools throughout the Borough.

“We have been concerned from the outset that despite no schools in the Borough being closed yet, there may in fact still be RAAC in local schools.

“As we asked last week, the council should come clean and list the schools where they are doing these intrusive surveys because they suspect it is present. Parents deserve transparency.”