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RAAC concrete: Rishi Sunak supports Gillian Keegan’s handling of crisis despite criticism from Whitehall | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has backed Gillian Keegan’s handling of the schools concrete crisis after she was accused of opening up a “Pandora’s box” by taking unilateral decisions on the issue.

The prime minister said the Department for Education (DfE) had acted “exactly correctly” upon learning that more than a hundred schools were affected by the presence of collapse-prone reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

In total 147 schools have been identified as containing RAAC after the government responded to demands from the Opposition to publish the full list.

The start of term has been delayed at 19 schools – responsible for 11,150 pupils – while four schools with a total of 2,938 pupils have also had to return to remote learning, with the rest having to resort to a mix of remote learning and face-to-face tuition.

Speaking to reporters while on a trip to the G20 summit in Delhi, Mr Sunak said the action taken by the government “will ensure the safety of children and these buildings”.

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“We’re providing lots of support to schools so that we can mitigate these things as quickly as possible, minimise the disruption of children’s education,” he said.

“But the professional advice from the independent bodies on RAAC remains as it is. Departments individually will follow that advice as it relates to their particular estate.”

Mr Sunak’s defence comes after Sky News revealed that Ms Keegan had come under fire from colleagues for her “unilateral” decision to determine which school buildings needed to close following RAAC concerns.

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Keegan didn’t consult on closing schools

Ministers in Whitehall fear she has opened a “Pandora’s box” by setting a more cautious than necessary standard that could affect a huge array of public buildings, including housing stock, local authority buildings and the military estate.

The education secretary has made clear she took the most cautious of the options presented by officials over which buildings to shut last week.

Sky News understands that the decision was signed off by the education team in Number 10 with the prime minister’s knowledge.

However, there was no Cabinet Office meeting and no ministerial follow-up for days after the issue emerged. The Department for Education “belatedly” shared the technical advice on why they shut schools with others in Whitehall – some of whom disagree it shows a need to shut schools.

Sky News understands she “informed” the relevant Whitehall committees, which have been dealing with the issue of crumbling concrete for years. However, she did not fully consult or secure an agreement for her move.