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All Saints is the only school in the country completely shut to pupils over RAAC concerns

Pupils and parents face uncertainty as the government orders Stepney All Saints School to close two weeks after term starts, despite council assurances about RAAC.

Last Thursday evening, parents and pupils were informed that the Department for Education (DfE) had ordered Stepney All Saints School to close after it changed its advice about unsafe concrete. Pupils are now learning online without knowing when they will be able to return to school in person.

The school closed its doors to its 1,500 pupils two weeks after term started. Surveyors need to complete their assessments before there can be any indication of how long it will take to make the school safe.

The government ordered the school to close because of fears about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC). All Saints says it followed the government’s advice when it found RAAC in its buildings during the summer holidays. The school put in place props to support ceilings so that it could open this term.

However, the DfE changed its advice last week and instructed the school to shut down. A spokesperson for the school told the Evening Standard that ‘Nothing changed – it’s not like we suddenly saw massive cracks, it was just the guidance changed.’

Tower Hamlets Council had previously assured residents that ‘there will be no such school closures in Tower Hamlets’. The Council said last Friday that they are ‘supporting the school to reopen as soon as it is deemed safe’.

The announcement caught parents and pupils by surprise. ‘We don’t know how long this is likely to last and can’t plan ahead’, said Yasmina Hussain, a parent of three children at the school. Both her and her husband work full-time and want clarity about when the school will reopen so they can plan their childcare.

Hussain said the school has been supportive. They have provided laptops for all her children for online learning. But she believes the government ‘put children in danger’ by allowing pupils back to school for two weeks.

Her high-achieving son in year eleven is a particular source of concern for Hussain. The closure comes after pupils missed significant amounts of time at school during the COVID-19 pandemic and he is facing another period of disruption ahead of his GCSEs.

Neither the DfE nor All Saints have given any information about what will happen if they confirm that the school is unsafe. Schools across the UK impacted by the RAAC crisis have ordered 250 temporary Portakabin classrooms.

The DfE said in a statement: ‘We know this will be a difficult time for parents and pupils, which is why we will continue to work with the Diocese and Stepney All Saints School to support them to put mitigations in place so that pupils can return to the classroom as soon as possible.’

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