What a nerve! Now Gillian Keegan is telling schools to ‘get off their behinds’ to help solve this crisis

Fireproof education secretary Gillian Keegan has told school heads to “get off their backs” to help solve the crumbling concrete crisis as The independent can reveal that safety fears have now spread to nursing homes.

For the second day in a row, Ms Keegan was embroiled in an extraordinary row over the scandal as the government doubled down on its handling of the matter.

She insisted her department had done an “excellent job” – despite ordering more than 100 schools to close in full or in part just days before the start of the new school year.

But she was accused of “finger-pointing” and tried to blame individual schools, while senior Tory MPs warned her job was “at risk”.

As for concerns about the concrete, which has been compared to an ‘Aero bar', spreading, The independent understands that the Government informs care home providers of potential concerns on their estates.

It came as:

  • NHS England has urged health bosses to carry out an urgent review of hospitals – and draw up evacuation plans in case they have to close
  • the crisis sparked panic in other public buildings, including theaters and the Houses of Parliament
  • the chief inspector of prisons said it would be “extremely worrying” if the material was found in prisons
  • it emerged that just four schools had been renovated under the government's major rebuilding programme, despite Rishi Sunak's promise to cover 50 a year

The government is still trying to find out how many public buildings could be affected by autoclaved reinforced aerated concrete (RAAC) – but has no plans to tell the public where they are, No 10 said.

The prime minister chaired a meeting on the issue on Monday, although the work is being conducted by cabinet minister Jeremy Quinn.

But while the full list of affected schools will be released later this week after days of mounting pressure, Downing Street said it was “unaware” of plans to release the full list of all affected buildings.

Gillian Keegan insisted her department had done a ‘fantastic job'

(Mark Thomas/Shutterstock)

Mr Sunak's official spokesman said: “For some time, indeed for years, many departments, including the Department for Education (DFE), have been enhancing our understanding of where the RAAC is on their estate.”

He said work is being done to bring all that information together in one place and (ensure) departments … have whatever support they need.”

In her latest comments, Ms Keegan hit out at one in 20 schools she said had yet to respond to an inquiry into the crumbling concrete.

He told the BBC's Jeremy Vine Show that headteachers should “get off the hook” and let ministers know if they are affected – just a day after he was forced to apologize saying others had been “sitting on their minds” about collapsing schools.

‘Vast majority of schools not affected' by Raac concrete, says education secretary

The Confederation of School Trusts said it was “not useful now to resort to finger-pointing”, while the NEU union called its comments “outrageous”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), accused Ms Keegan of “a second display of gloom in successive days – albeit without the swearing this time”.

He said schools were expected to identify Raac “even though it is a specialist area and is unlikely to have staff who are experienced in this area” and that they had “received little help” from the Department for Education.

Paul Whiteman, from school leaders' union NAHT, said: “Any attempt to start shifting responsibility to individual schools will be seen by parents and the public for what it is: a desperate attempt by the government to divert from its own of significant failures”.

He said ministers had known about Raac “for many years” but had only recently sent the inquiries.

He added: “The responsibility for this situation rests squarely on the government's shoulders and no amount of diversion and distraction will change that.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “It is outrageous for the education secretary to lay all the blame for the Raac crisis at the door of schools. The fact is that the Ministry of Education has dragged its heels here and many years for that matter.”

Teachers forced to take learning online or relocate amid fears school buildings could collapse

(EPA/SWNS)

Senior Tories also warned that Ms Keegan's job was “at risk” over the scandal.

A senior Tory, a former minister, said The independent that Ms Keegan was guilty of “amateur slips” when speaking to the media – and warned that her job was “at risk” if the government failed to understand the Raac crisis.

Another former minister said the crisis was handled “horribly” by Ms Keegan and her schools minister Nick Gibb. They said Raats was a “long-standing issue that should be dealt with locally – they have turned it into a national crisis”. They added “but I expect it will survive”, accusing Mr Sunak of failing to deliver even a small reshuffle after a much-anticipated reunion of his top team last week saw only one minister move.

Downing Street backed Mrs Keegan's call for school leaders to respond to the inquiry.

The prime minister's official spokesman: “Certainly, parents want reassurance about this and I think we will agree that it is important that all schools, as 95 per cent or more have already done so, complete this survey so that we can provide further assurance. We already know that, in the vast majority of cases, parents and students will not be affected by this.”

But Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson slammed Ms Keegan for comments that were a “slap in the face for all the students and parents affected”.