For the past two weeks I have been working closely in partnership with the Appleton School, the Department for Education and Essex County Council to get a solution together that gets every pupil back to school in safe learning environments as soon as possible. I have had a number of meetings with Education Ministers, Senior Essex County Councillors and individual parents and I have been in regular touch with Head Teacher.
It has been a very intense few weeks for everyone, for the leadership of the school, for the teachers, and for the parents and students who have had to endure a rota of home learning. I am pleased to say however that great progress has been made.
The first step was to determine exactly where the RAAC is in the school. The first RAAC survey that took place over the summer confirmed there was very likely RAAC in one building and suspected RAAC throughout most of the school. The health and safety guidance then changed and schools were ordered to close areas with confirmed RAAC until mitigation could be put in place, and areas of or with suspected RAAC until its presence could be confirmed or not.
Although Appleton is an academy and independent from Essex County Council as an education authority, having spoken to the Head Teacher I called up the local Essex County Councillor, Cllr Andrew Sheldon, and asked him to assist the school in getting a comprehensive and specialist survey done at the school as soon as possible as an absolute priority. I am pleased to say that comprehensive survey took place earlier this week and the school should be receiving the full report within the next few days.
The results of this survey are very important as it may allow the school to reopen all of the accessible teaching spaces that don’t have RAAC and get as many students as possible back into permanent classrooms. Once the school has the report in hand and has worked out a plan, I understand parents will be contacted directly.
In the meantime Essex County Council has been working in partnership with the leadership of the school in securing demountable temporary classrooms which can be delivered and installed quickly as soon as the results of the survey are known and it is clear exactly how many are needed. In order to make sure there are no delays to getting them installed I spoke to the Planning Minister about removing any planning obstacles that may hold up the process. I am pleased to say that new guidance was issued by the Government this week to do just that and it has been sent to the Head of Planning at Castle Point Borough Council. He has also assured me he will do all he can to support the school with any RAAC mitigation measures that require building control services.
In the meantime I have worked to get the school clarity on the funding streams for mitigation measures and temporary arrangements. Last week, for example I arranged a meeting with the Department for Education which resulted in a commitment to fund laptops for students who don’t have access to one at home so they can fully engage with distance learning classes. I will continue to go into bat for the school to secure whatever funding they need so they can fully focus on the education of the students and getting them into classrooms as soon as humanly possible.
I have been in touch with concerned parents who have contacted me directly but I want to ensure as many Appleton parents get this update so please do share it with any you know.