A school where most lessons have been moved online because of safety fears over reinforced concrete in classrooms is to be rebuilt as a ‘top priority’ following a visit by an education minister.

Plans have been put in place to get almost 1,500 at St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham back into face-to-face lessons after half-term.

Sixth formers and year 11 will be using the parts of the existing site deemed safe while the rest of the school will be using temporary classrooms and the 19th century former seminary Ushaw College some five miles away.

Read more: Protest over RAAC disruption at St Leonard's School in Durham

The Northern Echo: Pupils will be studying at Ushaw until their new school is ready Pupils will be studying at Ushaw until their new school is ready (Image: Contributor)Read more: Photographs from inside Ushaw College - past and present

The Northern Echo: Parents outside the school on Wednesday morning Parents outside the school on Wednesday morning (Image: Contributor)Parents held a demonstration of support for staff and the school - regularly one of the top performing state schools at GCSE in the North East - for the visit of schools minister Baroness Diana Barran this morning (Wednesday, September 27).

Baroness Barran said: “We are working closely with St Leonard’s school to minimise disruption and get pupils back into face-to-face learning.

"Today, I met with parents, staff and pupils to hear their views and I will return next week to share further updates.

“St Leonard’s School is already set to be rebuilt as part of our School Rebuilding Programme and we are working at pace to conclude feasibility work so that procurement, planning and construction can go ahead as quickly as possible.” 

Nick Hurn, chief executive of the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust which runs St Leonard’s, said their meeting had been “very productive”.

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

He said: “We now think we’ve got a really good road map moving forward, that we can use a combination of the school site, Ushaw College, and hopefully, the demountables (temporary classrooms) as they come online.

“We’re hopeful by half-term we’ll have all the children back and face-to-face learning.

“But we’ll make a proper announcement next week because we’ll have a clearer idea of what we can and can’t use within the school.”

The chief executive admitted they may have been “a bit behind” other schools in securing temporary offices, and that the portable toilets they need were hard to get, but he said some schools had more warning about thereinforced autoclaved aerated concrete Raac problems than St Leonard’s did.

The Northern Echo: Nick Hurn from Bishop Wilkinson Trust Nick Hurn from Bishop Wilkinson Trust (Image: Gavin Havery)

Mr Hurn praised parents for their campaigning, and said: “We really appreciate the support and the understanding.

“Rest assured, we’re working as hard as we possibly can to get things back on track for the children and for the staff.

“Stick with us, keep the faith.”

Since the start of school some year groups have only been allowed into school for one day a week of face-to-face teaching, with the other four days taught remotely online.

Pupils who are allowed in face very large class sizes, some in the sports hall or corridors, without desks and using clipboards to lean on.

The Northern Echo: Jack Kennedy,Jack Kennedy, (Image: Gavin Havery)

Jack Kennedy, whose daughter Lucia is in year eight, who was part of the demonstration at the school gates, said: “We all hope it does get resolved. That is why we are all here today, to spur on the motivation from the Department for Education.

“I am a single parent so the impact has been huge, juggling work and remote learning.

“It is an additional stress that the parents don’t need and the children don’t need.”

Durham Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy was at the meeting with the minister, as well as senior leaders, Department for Education officials and Durham University.

Ms Foy described the outcome as “quite positive” but said that surveys of the extent of the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) in school buildings were ongoing and a clearer picture will be known next week.

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The MP said she had been assured that the long-planned school rebuild would now happen.

She said: “The minister has assured me that this has been expedited and it’s one of the top on the list for a rebuild.

“So hopefully we’ll see that brand new model school earlier than we would have expected.”