A Government minister has been criticised for ‘insulting’ parents, teachers and pupils at a RAAC impacted school. 

On a visit to Teesside University this week Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, said that a decision not to intervene with exam results for key stage 4 and 5 pupils at St Leonard's Catholic School in Durham due to disruption caused by the concrete crisis was correct. She said this was because the government would then have to do the same for schools requiring improvement.

Nick Hurn OBE, the CEO of Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, which manages St Leonard's said the school was being 'palmed off' and accused the government of failing his students, calling their response intransient and extremely disappointing.

A County Durham MP has called for the  Prime Minister to step in after the Department of Education (DfE) revealed that pupils of St Leonards Catholic School in Durham will not be receiving exam dispensations.

Mary Kelly Foy, Labour MP for Durham also accused the DfE of being ‘dangerously incompetent’.

The initial reason given by education ministers for the lack of exam mitigation for St Leonard's pupils, was due to the current exam framework and regulations that prevent intervention by the Secretary of State, without a change to the law.

The Secretary of State said  she believes St Leonard’s school - which has been operating through temporary classrooms for 19 weeks - has had ‘loads’ of help from Durham University and Ushaw College and "to change the exams - let’s say because it was a requires improvement school and not an outstanding school" would "not create the right incentive".

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Mrs Keegan also said: “Educations are different in some parts of the country and to try and change the exams - let’s say because it was a requires improvement school and not an outstanding school, that’s not going to create the right incentive – so that’s why the integrity of the exam system is correct.

“Exams are there to make sure that you just test what the person knows not what the person couldn’t know or would have known.”

Nicola Cook, parent of a Year 13 student at St Leonard’s, said: “Gillian’s comments are utterly shameful. The government have refused to acknowledge any impact from RAAC disruption to the current exam cohort, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, the Secretary of State for Education has finally revealed the real reason she’s unwilling to help the pupils of St Leonards — because then she’d have to find a solution that helps all children facing education inequality. Surely though, that’s her job?”

The Northern Echo: Some students are being taught in pop up classrooms in the school's sports hall.


Mrs Foy said: “This is not about an underachieving school. It never has been. It is about a school affected by RAAC. It is about giving pupils a fair chance in their exams this year. They did not cause the RAAC crisis, but they have been impacted by it – seriously so. I am shocked that the government cannot understand this.

“Like the parents, pupils and teachers at St Leonard’s, I am extremely grateful that institutions, like Durham University, have assisted the school since the RAAC crisis began. On the other hand, it is ridiculous that the institution which can make the biggest difference, the Government, has not offered unwavering support to St Leonard’s. Instead, the Tories sit on their hands, yet again sending a message to these young people that they simply aren't worth helping.

“This is such a simple fix. Ministers could have resolved it within weeks if they wanted, but the Secretary of State clearly does not even understand what is going on.

“The Prime Minister must now step in because the Department for Education has shown itself to be dangerously incompetent.”

The Northern Echo:

The Secretary of State also thanked the teachers at St Leonards and said: “We will be working with them soon to look at what we can do for the longer term.”

After being told there was reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in its construction on August 31, 2023, St Leonards was forced to close and has since been branded as the school “most affected” by decaying RAAC and asbestos.

Research carried out by Durham University said that grades should be inflated by up to 10 per cent in exams this summer, after the school has faced "exceptionally disruptive circumstances."

Mr Hurn OBE, CEO of Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, said: “I simply do not accept this reason from the Secretary of State for not intervening for our exam students. Since the start of this disruption, I have been clear about the relentless nature that this disruption has caused our whole school community.

“I even commissioned an impact report from Durham University to ensure we acquired an objective and accurate appraisal of damage that had been done and continues to be done to our students’ exam chances. The facts are irrefutable. Yet in spite of the overwhelming bank of evidence that has been submitted by the school and the Trust we are still palmed off.

“I have been shocked and extremely disappointed by the intransient approach by this government on this issue. Our students’ future life chances are being disadvantaged, disregarded, and failed by this stance. St Leonard's has been, before this debacle, a high achieving school.”

Still being taught in temporary classrooms with limited desk space, a lack of SEND and one to one support, the news that allowances will not be made for its GCSE and A-level students has angered pupils, and parents and the wider community.

The Northern Echo: Pupils at St Leonard's in Durham have been unable to return to school properly because of RAAC

In an update to St Leonard's parents, it was revealed that the school finally hopes to stop using their sports hall as a teaching space at the end of April 2024 with plans to finalise their temporary site in June 2024 – which will allow for teaching of specialist subjects like engineering, music, more science space and sports.

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, said: “The comments from the Secretary of State are insulting to teachers, parents and pupils.

"If the Education Secretary believes that the request for special consideration for exam students at St Leonards has anything to do with their Ofsted rating she will not be awarded any additional marks for critical thinking.

"We all understand the need to ensure that all school buildings are safe. However, the Government cannot ignore the impact that this has had on pupils this year. I agree that a failure in Leadership is a significant issue – but that’s a problem born in Westminster not Durham City.”