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‘Outrageous’ education secretary tells school chiefs to ‘get off their backsides’ and fill out concrete survey

The education secretary is facing fresh criticism after saying school chiefs who have not responded to a survey should “get off their backsides” and inform ministers whether they are affected by crumbling concrete.

Gillian Keegan has been accused of a “second display of petulance” over the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) crisis, after she railed against people “sat on their arses” in a sweary outburst on Monday.

Ms Keegan initially insisted her comments were aimed at “nobody in particular” and she was annoyed at the interviewer who was “making out it was all my fault”.

Politics latest: Keegan mocked over social media post

She has now shed further light on the root of her anger, telling Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 on Tuesday: “The annoying bit, and this was probably a bit of my frustration yesterday, is despite asking since March 2020, there’s 5% of schools or responsible bodies that have not responded to the survey.”

She added: “Hopefully all this publicity will make them get off their backsides.

“But what I would like them to do is to respond because I want to be the secretary of state that knows exactly in every school where there is RAAC and takes action.

“We’ve written to them quite a few times and we’ve also set up a call centre to phone them up to ask them to do it and they still haven’t.

“So we have written to them yesterday and given them ’til the end of the week.”

Union leaders branded Ms Keegan’s latest comments “outrageous” and accused the government of trying to shift the blame from its own failings.

Safety concerns about collapse-prone RAAC have forced the full or part closure of more than 100 schools in England.

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Education Sec watches the moment she was caught on camera swearing

Headteachers have been scrambling to find temporary teaching spaces ahead of the new academic year, while others have been forced to replace face-to-face lessons with remote learning.

Ministers have come under fire over the timing of the announcement, with critics claiming they failed to heed previous warnings and invest in school buildings.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is the education secretary’s second display of petulance in consecutive days – albeit on this occasion without the swear words attached – and isn’t very helpful.

“Schools have been expected to identify RAAC even though this is a specialist field and are unlikely to have staff who are experts in this area.

“They have received minimal help from the Department for Education which will have known which schools have not returned surveys for several months and which has had ample time to reach out to them.

“The education secretary would do better to provide support, rather than blame.”

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‘Desperate attempt to deflect’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Any attempt to start shifting the blame onto individual schools will be seen by parents and public for what it is: a desperate attempt by government to deflect from its own significant failings.

“The facts are clear: the current crumbling school estate is the direct result of ministerial decisions to slash capital budgets.

“Furthermore, the government has known about the risks associated with RAAC for many years but has only recently sent out these surveys to responsible bodies.

“The fact that we now have classroom ceilings held up by metal poles and classrooms put out of use completely is a reflection of the neglect and cuts we have been warning about for years.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), added: “It is outrageous of the education secretary to lay any responsibility for the RAAC crisis at the door of schools.

“The fact is that the Department for Education has dragged its heels over many years on this issue.”

Keegan mocked over concrete post

Ms Keegan apologised for her comments yesterday, in which she also complained that no one had thanked her department for doing a “f****** good job”.

She went on to admit to being on holiday in Spain in the run-up to ordering the 104 schools and colleges to make closures.

Then on Tuesday morning, she was mocked for tweeting a graphic claiming most schools are “unaffected” by RAAC, with Labour quick to post a spoof saying “most beachgoers not eaten by big shark”, in reference to the stance of the mayor in the movie Jaws.

It came on a day of many developments, with a minister admitting Rishi Sunak rejected a funding request to fix more crumbling schools when he was chancellor.

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