Fury at Gillian Keegan call to 'get off backsides' on concrete crisis

Now teachers hit back at Gillian Keegan saying she ‘doesn’t care about education’ after she blamed them for ‘sitting on their backsides’ over concrete crisis – but ministers fear she has opened ‘Pandora’s Box’ by over-reacting to risks

Tensions between teachers and Gillian Keegan over the concrete crisis escalated again today after she ordered them to ‘get off their backsides’. 

Heads have responded to the Education Secretary’s extraordinary attack by stressing their job is to focus on children’s learning, not search for Raac in buildings.

The spat looks to be gathering pace amid growing fears in Whitehall that the situation could spiral out of control and cripple budgets.

There are warnings that Ms Keegan might have opened ‘Pandora’s Box’ with an over-cautious stance, setting a low bar for drastic action on the rest of the public sector estate.   

Keir Starmer will bid to bind Rishi Sunak to the chaos when they face off at the first PMQs since Parliament returned from its summer break.

The premier  has become embroiled in the row after one of his ministers revealed that as chancellor he dismissed an application for 200 schools a year to be to be rebuilt.

Heads have responded to Gillian Keegan’s (pictured) extraordinary attack by stressing their job is to focus on children’s learning, not search for Raac in buildings

Raac mitigation work being carried out at Mayflower Primary School in Leicester this week

Builders at work at Hornsey School for Girls in London this week

Instead funding was provided for 50 schools a year. 

In another line of criticism, BBC analysis has suggested that at least 13 schools confirmed to have Raac had reconstruction funding withdrawn after the credit crunch in 2010.

Raac is a lightweight form of concrete that was widely used between the 1950s and 1990s. Concerns about weaknesses in the material have been around for years.

But Ms Keegan says fresh evidence about collapses without any warning sparked her decision that more than 100 schools in England needed to partially or fully shut while mitigation was put in place.

Mr Sunak is likely to be grilled by Sir Keir on the funding made available to tackle faulty classroom concrete. The PM has rejected the attack on his Treasury record. 

It comes after Ms Keegan was forced to apologise after railing against those she said had ‘sat on their arse and done nothing’ about Raac in a sweary outburst on Monday.

Yesterday she complained about schools not returning questionnaires on the presence of Raac, saying they should ‘get off their backsides’.  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, branded the crisis a ‘national scandal’, and highlighted the 2010 decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future scheme.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think the nation’s parents will think this just reinforces a sense that we have got a Government that frankly doesn’t care, and hasn’t cared about education for many years.

‘I actually remember visiting a school in a pretty deprived part of Suffolk, which was on the Building Schools for the Future list on the day that Michael Gove gleefully announced that the programme was being pulled.

‘There were all kinds of flaws with that programme: it was expensive and it was overambitious, but it was saying something important, that the nation’s schools needed to be refurbished.

‘What we have got today, therefore, is some of those schools’ headteachers scrambling around trying to identify bits of concrete which might look like Aero bars when they should be focusing on children learning and developing.’

Labour will look to increase the scrutiny on Mr Sunak over the Raac crisis with plans to use a humble address motion, a mechanism for demanding papers from government departments.

They want publication of submissions of evidence sent by the DfE to No 10 and the Treasury relating to advice on the construction trouble.

As part of the move, it will also push to see all related correspondence ahead of the 2020 and 2021 spending reviews and the 2022 spring and autumn statements to show what advice Mr Sunak was given as chancellor about the need to replace Raac.

Mrs Keegan, who has come under fire for her handling of the concrete crisis, defended the Prime Minister’s past actions to protect school building safety.

She said: ‘As chancellor, the Prime Minister introduced the school rebuilding programmes – delivering 500 schools over the next decade.

Keir Starmer will bid to bind Rishi Sunak (pictured) to the chaos when they face off at the first PMQs since Parliament returned from its summer break

Sir Keir has seized on the concrete crisis as he mounts a push towards the general election next year

‘On top of that, the Conservatives have invested £15 billion in schools since 2015.

‘In addition, capital spending this year will be almost 29% higher in real terms than last year.’

She continued: ‘An independent review found Labour’s schools funding programme was badly targeted and complex.

‘It did nothing to fix schools in poor condition, particularly those affected by Raac. In contrast the Labour-run Welsh government have sat on their hands and failed to act on schools in Wales.’

Meanwhile, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said Ms Keegan has ‘serious questions to answer’ after it emerged a company the senior Tory’s husband has links to was handed a £1million IT contract from a fund earmarked for rebuilding schools.

According to the Daily Mirror, Michael Keegan states on his LinkedIn social media page that he is a non-executive director at technology firm Centerprise.

The company was one of six suppliers awarded contracts earlier this year to replace server infrastructure, with the money coming from the DfE’s school rebuilding programme fund.

Ms Phillipson said: ‘This appears to be a gross conflict of interest and eyebrows will be raised that the Keegans appear to have gained from a shrinking pot of school rebuilding money.’

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Mr and Ms Keegan.

A DfE spokeswoman said: ‘Ministers had no involvement in the procurement process for these contracts, which were awarded in line with existing government commercial procedures.’

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