Darlington school among first to announce ‘distressing’ closure news due to collapsing concrete threat

A Darlington primary school is one of the first to announce it is being forced to close before the new term even starts due to the crumbling classroos risk.

St Teresa’s Catholic Primary is one of more than 100 schools caught up in the concerns over autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) blocks, which pose a safety risk due to sudden collapse.

The Harris Street school, which is part of the Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust, which operates numerous schools across the area, including in Hartlepool, Stockton and Billingham, will initially be closed until September 11.

It comes after advice from the Government.

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In a message to parents, Paula Strachan, headteacher at St Teresa’s, said: “I need to let you know that on advice from the Department for Education, our trust have taken the difficult decision to close St Teresa’s for the safety of the children. I appreciate that this news is distressing but I would like to assure you that, as always, our school family and their safety is our priority.

“School will be closed initially until Monday, September 11. During this period, we will be working with DfE appointed surveyors to establish the extent of the problem and to identify our next steps to ensure the ongoing education and safety of our children.

“I will give you a further update on Monday with information about free school meals, online learning, how you can contact us and any other updates that are available at that point.

“During lockdown, we learnt how strong our school family is and I know that we will soon be back to loving, laughing and learning together the way that we do at St Teresa’s.

“Much love to you all, please give the children a hug from us all and we’ll see you soon.”

St Teresa's Catholic Primary School in Darlington.
St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School in Darlington.
(Image: Google maps)

Government education officials have contacted around 100 schools before the start of the new term to tell them to immediately shut affected buildings unless safety measures are in place.

The order from the Department for Education was sent to 156 schools, school nurseries and further education colleges on Thursday, plunging the start of the new academic year into chaos for teachers and pupils.

The Health and Safety Executive has said the widely used material is now “life-expired” and could collapse with “little or no notice”.

Carmel College, at The Headlands, in Darlington, has also advised its parents that the kitchen and library at the college will be temporarily vacated until further investigations have taken place.

The college will remain open but there will be some disruption to classrooms and only a limited break and lunch menu. Pupils from Year 7-11 are also asked to take a packed lunch for the first week. Food will be available for any pupils in receipt of free school meals.

Councillor Nick Wallis, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We appreciate this is a worrying time for parents and we are working hard to minimise any disruption to our children’s education as a result of these new measures.

“We will be working closely with all our local schools, both council maintained and any affected academy trust, and others to offer support and advice and looking at all options available to help schools resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

Parents with children at St Teresa’s and Carmel College will be notified as and when there are any updates, or should contact the school if they have any questions.

It is not thought any schools in the Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar council areas are affected. A spokesperson for Middlesbrough Council said they had not been notified by any school that they would not be opening next week.

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