The deteriorating condition of schools and lack of local opportunities for children in County Durham has been blamed on years of underinvestment and a lack of support.  

Labour councillors say the government is responsible for the ongoing RAAC crisis, which closed four schools in the region after their buildings were deemed unsafe. They also criticised the previous coalition government, formed between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in 2010, for scrapping Labour’s investment plans. 

But members of Durham County Council’s Joint Administration - made up of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents - say it has invested millions into regional schools to provide better facilities for children. 

Staff at the affected schools continue to count the financial cost of the RAAC crisis, which has seen hundreds of pupils relocate to alternative premises or learning from home. 

St Leonard’s Catholic School, Durham; St Bede’s Catholic School and Byron Sixth Form College, Peterlee; Ferryhill School; and St Benet’s Primary School, Ouston, have all been affected after the crumbling concrete was found in their buildings. 

Cllr Stacey Deinali urged members to condemn the government’s alleged decision to cut capital spending on school improvements and its failure to “adequately fund schools across County Durham”. 

She added: “We all know that some of our County Durham schools have been waiting years for a rebuild or major refurbishments; making do with buckets in corridors in wet weather, putting up displays to cover damp patches, and having teachers in during holidays to ensure that the classroom is as near a good learning environment as they can get.

“The reality is these schools could be waiting even longer for the work they urgently need to be done. The decisions made by the Conservative government since 2010 have put our schools under pressure, have let our communities down, and have put the safety of our children at risk.”

In Ferryhill, it is reported that classes of over a hundred children are being taught due to the issues.  

Local cllr Curtis Bihari said: “The majority of the school is closed, years seven and eight are being taught on sites but it’s in classes of over a hundred. Year nine, 10 and 11 are at alternative sites. Every child has had their learning disrupted.

“Our kids deserve better. Children across County Durham are affected because of poor government decisions. It’s a disgrace that our schools have been left to crumble around our children.”

Parents have protested outside St Leonard’s in Durham, as part of an appeal to protect children's future education and it was revealed pupils may have to wait until 2026 for the school to fully reopen. 

The Northern Echo: The exterior of St. Leonard's RC School in Durham, which has partially shut due to RAAC, which has been found in buildings across the site.The exterior of St. Leonard's RC School in Durham, which has partially shut due to RAAC, which has been found in buildings across the site. (Image: Tom Banks)

Cllr Fraser Tinsley, who has two sons at the school, said: “What really shocked me was the school hasn’t changed in 30 years from when I was there as a pupil. It really is underinvestment that’s the problem. By not investing in schools, they’re not investing in children and that means they’re not investing in the future of this country.”

Primary school pupils at St Benet’s, near Chester-le-Street, are currently travelling to Lanchester as their school is unsafe. “Our young people need the right premises to actually help and assist their learning,” said cllr Alison Batey. “How can we expect them to thrive if they haven’t even got that adequate facility?”

However, Liberal Democrat cllr Mark Wilkes rubbished Labour’s plea, saying it does nothing to improve the lives of children in County Durham and tabled an alternative motion which called for continued funding.

He said: “Cllr Deniali’s motion does nothing more than attack the government. It asks for nothing. It simply insults them, I expect they’d bin it. 

“This amendment asks for funding, rebuilds and repairs. Unlike cllr Deniali’s motion which is nothing more than a hate-filled statement.” 

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Members of the Joint Administration also pointed to the ongoing redevelopment of schools in County Durham, including news campuses in Newton Aycliffe and Belmont. 

The alternative motion was supported by 55 votes to 52. 

When asked about the RAAC crisis, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We’re working as quickly as possible providing the funding to schools, to get the surveys done to help them put mitigations in place so we can get all our kids back and face-to-face education as quickly as possible.”