Construction expert explains what is RAAC concrete after reports of unsafe schools
Not to be confused with the breakdown company or the onomatopoeia for when you hit a fly with a newspaper, RAAC or reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete is the old-fashioned style of concrete which is forcing more than 100 schools, nurseries and colleges in England to shut buildings and classrooms due to a risk of collapse.
On Thursday, just days before many schools start the new term on Monday, the Department for Education issued guidance to schools where the lightweight, ‘bubbly’ material – mostly used for roof panels, and sometimes floors and walls, between the 50s and mid-90s – has been identified.
That same year, the government issued guidance on the need for contingencies should affected buildings need to be vacated last-minute.
However, it was only last year that the DfE sent out a questionnaire to responsible bodies to establish how widely used RAAC is.
Gillian Keegan MP, the education secretary, said this week: “Nothing is more important than making sure children and staff are safe in schools and colleges, which is why we are acting on new evidence about RAAC now, ahead of the start of term.
“We must take a cautious approach because that is the right thing to do for both pupils and staff.
“The plan we have set out will minimise the impact on pupil learning and provide schools with the right funding and support they need to put mitigations in place to deal with RAAC.”
In comparison to traditional concrete, the “bubbly” makeup of RAAC means it’s less dense (around a third of the weight of its more reputable counterpart, in fact) and therefore not as robust.
While more than 50 settings have already received government support to put mitigations in place for RAAC buildings, 104 additional settings where RAAC is present have been contacted by the DfE this week.
Separate government guidance to parents states schools will be in contact with them directly if there are “any changes to the start of term”, and stresses “not all schools affected by RAAC need to close” with most educational establishments unaffected by a “change in approach”.