Kent school buildings ‘safe’ but St James’ reopening stalled by a day

WELCOME BACK: St James’ CofE Primary School will reopen today (Inset: Cllr Rory Love)

ALL Kent schools that were identified as a risk, owing to defective concrete, have now been inspected and deemed safe. No further schools have been identified as having a high and medium risk for Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), Kent County Council (KCC) has confirmed.

Despite this, children from St James’ CofE remained at home yesterday as the school awaited confirmation from the Department for Education that the school could safely reopen.

Over the weekend Cllr Rory Love, KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills had said: “I can confirm that all school sites for which KCC is responsible, and which had a high and medium risk of containing RAAC, have now been inspected.”

The statement followed a nationwide scramble to inspect and secure all school buildings late last week, after the Department for Education (DfE) published RAAC guidance on August 31.

When it came to state-funded educational establishments that were in the process of identifying, suspected they had, or had confirmed RAAC, the DfE said: “Spaces should remain out of use until appropriate mitigations are in place.”

The Kent Catholic Schools’ Partnership, which governs St Augustine’s and St Gregory’s schools in Tunbridge Wells, also confirmed to the Times that all its schools had been inspected, and were free from RAAC.

Among the seven schools identified in Kent with RAAC in the buildings was St James’ CofE Primary in Tunbridge Wells, which was forced to relocate pupils in Years 3 and 6 for part of the summer term. Works were carried out over the rest of that term and over the summer. John Constanti, Director of Education for the Rochester Diocesan Board of Education, told the Times that the strengthening works at St James’ had been completed and that all the accommodation was ready for the beginning of term.

Mr Constanti said: “I confirm that surveys have been undertaken for all of our Voluntary Aided schools for which the Diocese is the responsible body. It is confirmed that all except one (Tunbridge Wells St James’ CofE Primary school) have no RAAC present.”

Despite the reassurances of the Council and the celebrations of the St James’ team that their nightmare was finally over and children could return, Principal John Tutt was forced to send a letter out to parents and staff on Monday night (September 4) – the night before the children were due to return – regarding the continued closure of Junior school classes:

“Today the school, Diocese and County Council received a letter from the DfE requesting that those areas where RAAC is present be immediately taken out of use until appropriate mitigations have been put in place. The Council has successfully undertaken precautionary strengthening to the RAAC over the summer holiday in full compliance with the Institute of Structural Engineers’ technical guidance…

“The letter from the DfE is ambiguous… and it is unclear whether the DfE considers the … Institute of Structural Engineers’ technical guidance to represent appropriate mitigation.

“…Despite urgent attempts this afternoon at a senior level, the DfE did not confirm to KCC whether they confirm the works to be appropriate or not….

“…The late notice is shocking and is not the fault of KCC who have been extremely supportive throughout.”

A mother of a St James’ pupil, who asked not to be named, said: “My son is devastated. He was excited to be with his friends again. We are just hoping to go back to normal. Mr Tutt has done an amazing job and we couldn’t ask for a better principal.”

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