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Fulwood Academy shut for two days for ‘additional structural surveys’

Posted on - 4th September, 2023 - 11:41am | Author - | Posted in - Cadley, Education, Fulwood, Politics, Preston News, Schools, Sharoe Green
Entrance to Fulwood Academy in Black Bull Lane Pic: Google
Entrance to Fulwood Academy in Black Bull Lane Pic: Google

A second Preston school will stay shut for the first two days of the autumn term, so that a structural survey can be carried out to confirm that its facilities do not contain any of the concrete at the centre of nationwide concerns about the risk of sudden building collapse.

Update: Fulwood Academy to open on Wednesday following additional survey

Fulwood Academy contacted parents and carers on Sunday morning to advise them that it will be closed to its more than 700 pupils on Monday and Tuesday (4th and 5th September).

The Black Bull Lane secondary school’s headteacher, Andrew Galbraith, stressed in a letter emailed to families that investigations already undertaken indicated that the establishment was free of the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) material that has plunged the education sector into crisis. There is a risk of the concrete failing without warning at the end of its lifespan.

Read more: Fulwood secondary school closed due to concrete inspections

However, Mr. Galbraith said that an “inaccurate and incorrect” BBC online report identifying “Fulwood Secondary School” as being closed on Monday and Tuesday had caused “questions and concerns” from parents and staff.

There is no facility by the name of Fulwood Secondary School, but the resultant confusion appears to have caused some to conclude that the article – which lists all the schools across England so far known to be closed over RAAC issues – was referring to Fulwood Academy.

The report appears to have intended to reference Our Lady’s Catholic High in Fulwood, just over half a mile away – and which is mentioned elsewhere in the BBC’s A-Z list. As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed on Friday, that school – on St. Anthony’s Drive – has been told to close for at least Monday and Tuesday of the coming week pending further investigation into the extent of RAAC within its premises.

Andrew Galbraith the head of Fulwood Academy

In his letter, Mr. Galbraith explains that Fulwood Academy has “not been asked to close any areas” and that survey work previously carried out in line with Department for Education (DfE) guidance “indicates that we do not have any confirmed RAAC in our school building”.

Read more: Fulwood Academy turnaround as Ofsted rate school as good

However, he says that the BBC report has “rightly raised concerns from parents and staff” – and prompted him to order a further assessment.

“Given these questions and concerns, I have appointed a structural engineer to conduct a full survey on Monday 4th September to be able to fully reassure parents, pupils and staff that the building is safe. As many who have visited the school will know, the majority of the new building was built in 2012, however, our canteen, main hall and sports hall are located in areas that were built in 1953.

“As such, I have taken the decision to close the school on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th September to give us time to complete this additional survey and ensure these areas of the school are safe. While I appreciate this may be upsetting for many pupils, especially our new Yr7 pupils expected to join us tomorrow, this is not a decision that has been made lightly.

“However, considering this press publicity and concerns, I want to take care to ensure all our pupils and staff are safe, demonstrating one of our values, ‘We Care’.”

Read more: Campaign launches against school fare price hikes by Preston Bus

Mr. Galbraith said that year group project work for pupils would be available on the school website by mid-morning on Monday.

He added that he would write to parents and carers on Tuesday with the outcome of the additional survey report and “expectations for [the] start of school on Wednesday 6th September”.

RACC was used in the construction of public buildings during the second half of the 20th century, mostly between the 1960s and 1980s.

Ian Watkinson, secretary of the Preston branch of the National Education Union (NEU) and chair of its nationwide health and safety committee, praised Fulwood Academy for its cautious approach – but blasted the government for the lack of a comprehensive list detailing the situation for every school.

“Fulwood Academy was left with no choice as a result of the government’s last-minute incompetence, but well done to [them] for putting safety first and acting as swiftly as they could.

“To reassure all parents, children and staff, we need openness and transparency and for every school and college to either immediately publish the results of their own new full structural surveys, or [to] take measures to guarantee pupil and staff safety.

“That could mean full or partial school closures until those checks have taken place,” Mr. Watkinson warned.

Read more: M6 lane closures between Junction 32 and 33 for eight weeks due to bridge repair works

On Friday, Lancashire County Council said that the DfE was “liaising directly” with academy schools like Fulwood Academy and church-run schools like Our Lady’s Catholic High over the RAAC issue.

It added that of the 303 maintained facilities for which County Hall is responsible – out of a total of 628 in Lancashire – the council had “no safety concerns” after undertaking visual surveys at those schools where a RAAC presence was possible.

The government has so far refused to publish a list of the affected schools, with schools minister Nick Gibb telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning that he wanted parents “to hear from [their child’s] school, not read about it in the media first”.

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