Parents of pupils unable to go back to classes because of concerns over crumbling concrete fear a North East secondary school is beyond repair and may need to be rebuilt - with no immediate solution in sight. 

Students at St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham are still doing online lessons and parents say those allowed back are being crammed into a sports hall or made to sit with clipboards in a corridor.

The school was unable to reopen at the start of term after a ‘significant’ amount of RAAC, material susceptible to structural failure, was found in key school buildings.

Read more: St Leonard's School in Durham with RAAC tried to get funding years ago

The Northern Echo: Parents and pupils gathered at the school gates on Sunday to express their frustration Parents and pupils gathered at the school gates on Sunday to express their frustration (Image: Gavin Havery)

Parents becoming frustrated at the disruption to their daily routines and the detrimental impact on their children’s education have no idea when ordinary school life will resume.

Ling Pyle, whose son is a pupil, said: “We support the teachers but the authorities have got to get things done as quickly as possible in terms of getting the school back to normal.

“The Government must give priority to St Leonard’s.”

Parents plan to hold a peaceful protest at the site opposite County Hall on Wednesday to coincide with the visit of a Government education minister.

Laura Cairns, whose son is in year 11, said most of his secondary school education has been ruined by Covid, teachers' strikes and now RAAC.

She said: "To have the most important year of schooling affected is so sad when you think what they have missed out on already.

"Now, through no fault of their own, they are being let down again."

The Northern Echo: From left: Jacob Knowles, James Ramshaw, Thomas Knowles, Emily Normington, Lucia Kennedy, Emily Watson and OakleyFrom left: Jacob Knowles, James Ramshaw, Thomas Knowles, Emily Normington, Lucia Kennedy, Emily Watson and Oakley (Image: Gavin Havery)

The father of a girl in year eight, said it was ‘a nightmare’.

He said: “There is no plan in place at all for face-to-face learning on a full-time basis and a lack of understanding about timescales for both temporary and permanent solutions.

“It’s tough on the kids and all too similar to Covid by unfortunately being not very well organised.

“Even after only three weeks it’s taking a toll on them, being at home and away from friends behind a screen.”

Over the last two weeks some students have been able to return to school on certain days but the situation has been described as ‘chaotic’.

Cramped lessons are said to be taking place in a sports hall or with children sitting in a corridor with clipboards on their laps instead of at desks.

Parents have said there are no kitchen or drinks facilities available at the school.

One man said: “I am a single parent who works full time and cannot plan my workdays in the office due to this which is causing problems at work.

“The school has stopped teaching options to the children so GCSE year ten are only doing English, maths and science meaning they are four weeks behind other schools.

“The days pupils are in some are in corridors using clipboards. My son was part of a whole year group maths and English lesson in a sports hall with over 250 pupils of all abilities.”

The father said parents have been told the school cannot reopen in the near future and authorities are desperately looking for buildings where they can educate over 1,500 pupils.

It is understood potential solutions considered include temporary classrooms installed in the car park at County Hall in Durham as well as in buildings at Ushaw College and Durham University.

The Northern Echo: Pupils are keen to get back to face-to-face learning as quickly as possible Pupils are keen to get back to face-to-face learning as quickly as possible (Image: Gavin Havery)Parents have said they are supportive of teachers who are doing their best and have started an online fundraiser to show their appreciation.

A campaign group - Save St Leonard’s School – has been formed on Facebook and is calling on the Government to take action to address the situation as a matter of urgency.

The school is sending daily messages to keep the parents and pupils informed of the latest updates.

In the latest letter the school said: “To enable staff to teach in-person, online and support examination groups we have had to create large groups.

“We do not want to this.

“However, the only alternative is very little in-person teaching and much more online learning at home which we do not think is satisfactory at this stage.

“Large parts of the school are not accessible due to RAAC. This is placing an additional strain on our ability to deliver a high-quality curriculum as we cannot access many resources: textbooks, exercise books, computers and specialist equipment.

“We have tried hard not to but mistakes both technical and human are part of this situation.

“We know this is not easy. Thank you for your understanding.”

The Northern Echo: Baroness Diana Barran Baroness Diana Barran (Image: UK Parliament)Baroness Diana Barran MBE, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education, is due to visit the school on Wednesday.

Durham City MP Mary Kelly Foy held a virtual public meeting with parents on Friday night to discuss the matter.

Ms Kelly Foy described the Secretary of State for Education as ‘utterly tone deaf’ after she said she was ‘delighted’ pupils were studying online.

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The Northern Echo: Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan (Image: PA)Ms Kelly Foy last week asked Gillian Keegan if the planned rebuild of St Leonard’s could be accelerated only to be told it was an ‘evolving situation’.

She said: “I am delighted that St Leonard’s now has a mix of face-to-face and remote teaching, and they have done a fantastic job to enable that, I know they have been working with other local partners.

“In terms of the school rebuilding, we’ll be making those decisions with the project directors, with the project directors we have on site in St Leonard’s.

“We’ll be looking to the short-term mitigations and medium term, and when we should do the rebuilding as well.”

Ms Kelly Foy said no timescale has been provided by the Department for Education on when alternative classrooms will be open for the entire school.

She said: “Precious weeks of the school term are ticking by, and yet clear plans to get every pupil back into classrooms for face-to-face teaching are not yet in place.

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The Northern Echo: Durham City MP Mary Kelly Foy Durham City MP Mary Kelly Foy (Image: Parliament TV)Ms Kelly Foy said: "I’m appalled that the Minister is ‘delighted’ that pupils are having to learn online.

“It is utterly tone deaf to the concerns of parents having to cancel work while pupils’ study at home.

“The Department for Education needs to accelerate its efforts to support St Leonard’s and ensure face-to-face learning can take place as a matter of urgency.”