Durham University aids in resuming face to face teaching for local school

The school was affected by the discovery of RAAC concrete

Durham University is reported to be aiding a local school resume face to face teaching after it was affected by the discovery of RAAC concrete.

Over the summer holidays, moments before the start of the school year for many secondary schools, over 100 schools across the country were instructed to close down certain buildings due to the existence of an out-of-date substance known as RAAC. This has led to a continued disruption of the education of pupils, the full or partial closure of schools and an overall sense of stress and anxiety for parents. One of the schools affected by RAAC is St Leonard’s Catholic School, which has led to students being once again inflicted with virtual learning, and a subsequent demonstration by the parents, the BBC reports.

Amid the anxious nature of the situation, Durham University has aided the catholic school in the reducing the amount of time spent by pupils in virtual learning.

What is RAAC?

RAAC, which stands for “Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete”, is a form of cheaper concrete used mostly between the 1950s and 1990s that is easier to install. However, it is less durable and susceptible to structural failure, especially when exposed to moisture, due to the “bubbly” nature of the substance. This leads to a lifespan of around 30 years, which in turn could also lead to the structural degradation in particularly horrendous conditions.  The Health and Safety Executive have stated that lower durability and structural integrity of the substance renders it ‘liable to collapse‘.

Consequences for St Leonard’s Catholic School

Subsequently, buildings within St Leonard’s Catholic School have been deemed “structurally unsafe” due to the existence of RAAC within its buildings. This has led to parents stating that the students have been subjected to an education “back in Covid times”, where a combination of virtual and face to face learning has been implemented. It has also led to year 13 students being taken 14 milesto the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust HQ in Washington for in person lessons. Perhaps most distressing to the parents, though, was the revelation that some of the face to face lessons involve large groups of 90 or more pupils sitting down with clipboards during teaching hours.

This has prompted MP Mary Kelly Foy to demand that ‘parents and staff at the school “deserved answers”‘ from the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. Ultimately, it has led to an increasing sense of dread and anxiety for parents and staff of the school, thus prompting parents to demonstrate during the visit of schools minister Baroness Barran, per the BBC.

Response by Durham University

To aid the County Durham school, Durham University has “freed up space” at a former catholic seminary, Ushaw College, as reported by the BBC. The use of Ushaw college has given the school the opportunity for their year 7 and year 8 pupils to return to face to face teaching 5 days a week.

While the move has eased the stressful nature of RAAC limiting teaching facilities, this move still limits teaching time by reducing the number of overall lessons a day to facilitate bus trips between the school site and Ushaw College. Therefore, parents of these pupils still hope for a “full timetable and proper routine with full on-site facilities”.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen O’Brien, said: “As a university we are always open to working with local schools and colleges to help pupils thrive and reach their full academic potential.

“It is lovely to see our facilities at Ushaw brought to life with [St Leonard’s Catholic School’s] year 7 and year 8 pupils”.

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