A school forced to close to some pupils today due to concerns over potentially unsafe concrete will reopen in the morning.
Bosses at St James' Primary in Tunbridge Wells branded government guidance “unclear” and were forced to tell parents some children would not be able to attend class on just the second day of the new year.
Last week, the DfE revealed 156 schools in England are confirmed to have buildings constructed with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
But hundreds more schools in England could be affected by the crumbling material after the Prime Minister insisted 95% are unaffected.
This leaves open the possibility more than 1,000 could still be impacted by concerns over RAAC.
But Downing Street says the total number was expected to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands and the vast of schools would not be affected.
RAAC is a type of concrete that is prone to collapse unless safety measures are in place.
Palmarsh Primary in Hythe is closed today while St James’ Church of England Primary, Tunbridge Wells is partially shut, a Kent County Council (KCC) spokesman confirmed last night.
But speaking to the BBC today, chairman of governors for St James' Primary, Stephen Pollard, said: "We have just received a further letter from the Department for Education this morning confirming that they now understand the work that was undertaken over the summer does meet the criteria for reopening the school.
"We have been told we can reopen tomorrow and all we're waiting for is that confirmation in writing from KCC."
In an email to parents last night, St James' hit out at the DfE after it was sent a letter in which it explained, following some recent cases, they have taken the precautionary step of advising responsible bodies to vacate RAAC-affected buildings immediately.
The school was also affected and some areas deemed off-limits in the summer term while those where RAAC was present had been strengthened "as a precautionary measure".
And the email says the work had been in "full compliance with the Institute of Structural Engineers' technical guidance".
"The letter from the DfE is ambiguous in several places and it is unclear whether the DfE consider the Institute of Structural Engineers' guidance to represent appropriate mitigation,” it added.
"The DfE's updated guidance does not offer definition or specification for 'appropriate mitigation'."
KCC said last night it has been working with the DfE, responsible bodies and schools throughout the summer term and holidays to ensure schools in Kent that have RAAC have “appropriate mitigations in place”.
“These mitigations fully comply with the requirements of the Institute of Structural Engineers,” the authority said in a statement.
“It is disappointing that this afternoon (Monday) KCC and some affected schools have received letters from the DfE in which they explain that following some recent cases they have taken the precautionary step of advising responsible bodies to vacate RAAC-affected buildings immediately, even in cases where the confirmed RAAC would have previously been deemed ‘non-critical’ unless appropriate mitigations are in place.
“It is unclear whether the DfE’s advice is based on new information which will require further mitigation in Kent schools, in excess of that currently required by the Institute of Structural Engineers.”
It said the decision to close both St James’ and Palmarsh Primary School in Hythe – which was shut completely – was taken as a “safety-first approach” while the situation is clarified with the government.
The KCC statement added: “We do not believe that any areas of these schools are in imminent danger, but until the DfE clarifies its letter, we will not take any chances.”
Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, says he has “worked closely” with the school since RAAC was confirmed in June.
“As soon as this structural risk was confirmed at St James’, parents and the public were informed,” he said.
“The head, his staff and governors have done a heroic job in finding places for pupils to be taught and getting the work done over the summer.
“It was devastating to find yesterday the works carried out over the summer needed certifying that they met the new, higher national standard brought in last week.
“I raised the situation at St James’ immediately with the Secretary of State on the floor of the House of Commons last night, and have met with the minister throughout the last 24 hours.
“We are all relieved that it has been confirmed the remedial works meet the new standard and the school will reopen.
“I would like to pay tribute to Mr Tutt and KCC for their exemplary response to a situation outside their control in which the safety of children and staff was non-negotiable.
“I stand ready to help any other school which encounters similar issues in the future.”
But in response to news of the school’s closure, Mike Martin, the Liberal Democrat’s candidate in Tunbridge Wells in next year’s general election, says it was “terrible” for all pupils, parents and staff.
“I know the team at St James’ has worked tirelessly over the summer holidays to put mitigations in place so that the school could reopen as normal today,” he said.
“To have been let down by the government at this late stage is unforgivable.
“The fact the issue stems from Kent County Council saying one thing, and the Department for Education saying another, shows the chaos the Conservatives are in over this issue. The left hand is not talking to the right hand.
“The truth is we should never have got to this point.
‘To have been let down by the government at this late stage is unforgivable...’
“Mr Clark and the government have known about this crumbling concrete for years, but have both suppressed information about the scale of the problem and failed to spend money to rectify this life-endangering issue.”
Meanwhile, others identified with RAAC and needing remedial works are Sunnybank Primary, Sittingbourne; Godinton Primary, Ashford; St Bartholomew’s Catholic Primary School, Swanley; Birchington Church of England Primary and King Ethelbert Secondary School, also in Birchington, Thanet.
KentOnline reported earlier this year five sites in the county were affected by the issue – with some having to move lessons into marquees.
This website also previously revealed how concerns over RAAC originated at a school in Gravesend in 2018.
The fears over the dangers of particular buildings collapsing have also influenced decisions on which new hospital projects across the country have received funding – with Kent sites at Canterbury and Medway missing out on receiving cash.