THE injustice that parents, pupils and teachers at St Leonard’s Catholic School have experienced should be familiar to readers throughout County Durham. It should, in fact, be familiar to everyone in our country because it reflects a serious problem in our politics.

St Leonard’s was ordered to close by the Department for Education (DfE), only a few days before the autumn term began, due to the presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete – or “raac”. Hundreds of schools in the country were impacted by cheap concrete, however institutions in the south, in Tory constituencies and council areas, are back to normal. St Leonard’s isn’t.

Now, when the raac-crisis began, the resolutions were obvious: repair schools; protect pupils and provide them with mitigating circumstances for exams. Anyone with an atom of common sense could see that, but my experience dealing with government ministers has been bureaucratic and nightmarish.

For instance, I’ve had meetings with the DfE asking for mitigating circumstances for St Leonard’s pupils, only to be met with bizarre and excessive obfuscation. One minister told me that it would require a change in the law, and tried to baffle me with parliamentary procedure. It was just their way of saying ‘no’.

Ministers are supposed to fix problems, not sit on them. Working people didn’t fight for centuries for parliamentary democracy only to have a bored Tory minister say they can’t be bothered to legislate.

With that in mind, you can see why politics is full of injustices. Think of the recent Horizon IT scandal: ministers, past and present, knew about the issue for years, but it took a television drama to force the government to do something.

With St Leonard’s, ministers can’t ever say they didn’t know, or weren’t told. I even brought one to the school in September to meet with parents and school leaders.

Since the raac crisis began, I’ve used all the parliamentary mechanisms at my disposal to ensure that St Leonard’s isn’t forgotten and that justice is secured. Debates, questions, speeches and now a parliamentary petition.

The appeal calls on the government to change the law so mitigating circumstances can be provided for exams this year.

Remember, pupils were forced to work remotely, with no access to coursework or equipment, after raac was discovered. When alternative settings were found, they were noisy and overcrowded and in different sites across the City of Durham. The disruption to their education has been real and severe. Families have recently told me their children received conditional university offers for university, offers which didn’t take into consideration the impact that RAAC has had on their education.

Although the government doesn’t appreciate this, folks in Durham do.

Thousands of people signed the petition, demonstrating the real sense of solidarity in our county for the St Leonard’s community. I was proud to present the petition in Parliament last week and I’ll be following it up with the DfE.

I’ll meet the Chief Executive of the university admissions body, UCAS, soon to discuss protections for all St Leonard’s pupils who dream to attend university.

After all, the true impact raac has had on pupils isn’t yet known and we have a duty to safeguard their life chances. I’ll continue to lead that charge, and any organisations involved in the decisions which impact our children’s futures should expect to hear from me.