Rishi Sunak was called upon to handle the situation tonight as the school concrete crisis turned into a farce.
Tory MPs’ warning came after Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was forced to apologize for a slurred tirade about those responsible. In an embarrassing blunder on the first day after Parliament’s summer recess, Ms Keegan was caught on camera claiming she had done “a bloody good job” while others were “sitting on her ass”.
But it turns out she was on holiday in Spain last week while the crisis was unfolding. Days before the start of the Autumn semester, more than a hundred schools in England were told they would not be able to fully open over safety concerns over crumbling concrete.
This meant scores of students started the school year with online learning yesterday, echoing the huge disruption caused by the pandemic.
Teachers spent the weekend erecting tented classrooms and purchasing festival-style toilets to keep the classrooms open. The last-minute closures left parents desperate for emergency care for their children while juggling distance learning and full-time work.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (pictured) has had to apologize for a foul-mouthed tirade about who was responsible for the specific crisis
Rishi Sunak (pictured) was urged to handle the situation tonight as the school concrete crisis turned into a farce
Ms Keegan faced criticism for not going on the air over the weekend to address the issue and instead releasing a bizarre video with a dance music soundtrack. In a series of radio interviews yesterday, she admitted hundreds of schools could be affected by crumbling reinforced aerated concrete (RAAC).
But then, in an extraordinary outburst filmed as a television camera was repositioned for additional footage, she said, “Did anyone ever say, you know what, you did a bloody good job because everyone else was sitting on their ass.” and done nothing? No sign of it, right?’
She said ITV journalist Daniel Hewitt, who conducted the interview, “put me under quite a lot of pressure” and claims he “made it out to be like everything was my fault”.
In her apology, the education secretary refused to say who she thought “sat on her ass”. She added, “It was an impromptu comment after the news interview ended, or apparently after it ended.”
“I would like to apologize for my chosen language.”
Further developments on a chaotic day in Westminster:
- Mr Sunak insisted 95 per cent of English schools were unaffected – leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be affected by the crisis;
- Labor Party’s Keir Starmer said ministers appeared to be trying to shift responsibility for the closures and said the situation was turning into a farce;
- Union leaders wrote to Ms Keegan demanding urgent answers to the RAAC ‘state of emergency’ – including clarity on funding and support for schools;
- The Labor-led Welsh government has said two schools on Anglesey that were due to open today for the Autumn Term would be temporarily closed;
- The Scottish Government confirmed RAAC had been detected in 35 schools while local authorities were inspecting other buildings;
- The Department of Justice is inspecting buildings built in the 1990s for RAAC after Harrow Crown Court was found to contain the material.
- The PM faces another by-election after former Tory leader Chris Pincher lost an appeal against a long suspension of the House of Commons over groping allegations.
Mr Sunak was dragged into the concrete crisis yesterday after a former top official claimed the Prime Minister had failed to fully fund a program to rebuild schools.
Former Secretary of State for Education Jonathan Slater blamed the Prime Minister for halving the reconstruction budget during his tenure as Chancellor in 2021.
Rishi Sunak is hosting an intergovernmental briefing on RAAC in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street
Mr Sunak insisted 95 per cent of English schools were unaffected – leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be affected by the crisis;
In an embarrassing blunder on the first day after Parliament’s summer recess, Ms Keegan was caught on camera insisting she had done “a bloody good job” while others were “sitting on her ass”.
Mr Sunak dismissed the claim, stressing: “Indeed, one of the first things I did as Chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new ten-year school reconstruction program for 500 schools.” That’s now about 50 Schools that are renovated or remodeled per year. “If you look at what we’ve done over the past decade, it’s totally consistent with what we’ve always done.”
The row follows a lackluster summer that has angered many Tory MPs who fear the Prime Minister is not doing enough to win the next election.
They are increasingly frustrated by persistently poor poll numbers and failed campaign events such as ‘Small Boat Week’ – a scheme intended to tout progress in tackling Channel crossings but which soon foundered.
A senior backbencher said: “The government spends all its time looking at problems and mistakes from the past – that’s all the media we get.” It’s time for a front page and a positive message to spread, otherwise the changing electorate will support Labor.”
Another ex-minister said that Mr Sunak “shows that he cannot cope and unfortunately is not up to the task”.
No. 10 said Mr Sunak yesterday held an intergovernmental meeting with key departments affected by the specific crisis – including education, health and judiciary. He is said to have made it clear that parents should be given clarity and security.
Ministers have also promised a list of schools confirmed to have RAAC in their buildings will be published this week. The material was used for many public buildings between the 1950s and mid-1990s and is prone to failure.
The collapse of Singlewell Primary School in Gravesend, Kent, in 2018 raised concerns about the concrete, which civil engineers have described as “aero-type”.
But it was the collapse of a beam at a school that was once considered safe in the summer that triggered the action.
An Education Department spokesman said: “The Education Secretary has made the cautious and proactive decision to change guidance on Raac and has led daily operational discussions with ministers and senior officials at the Department and virtually this week.”