We now know the names of the 156 schools across the country with crumbling reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) inside their buildings, resulting in partial or full closure for 104 of those listed. What struck me as I glanced down the list of schools is the frequency of the word ‘Saint’ which, more often than not, means that the school in question is Catholic. A quick count showed that 30 Catholic schools are listed in total — which amounts to about a fifth of schools affected. Given that only 9 per cent of state funded schools and academies in the UK are Catholic, that seems alarmingly high and begs the question: why?
Well, the clearest answer is timing. The use of Raac was most prevalent between the 1950s and 1970s, which coincided with a time of rapid demographic change, particularly for the Catholic Church across the UK.
In his book, The Oxford History of British and Irish Catholicism, Professor Stephen Bullivant identifies two significant developments during this period; the Catholic Church’s ‘exceptional growth’ due to post-war immigration and the boom in the building of Catholic schools and churches during the 50s and 60s. He told me:
‘Thanks both to an (even) higher-than-average birthrate, and hundreds of thousands of Catholic immigrants from (inter alia) Ireland, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, the Church did an awful lot of building in the fifties and sixties. There were perhaps 600 new Catholic churches in England and Wales built in the 1960s alone. And of course, each parish needed a school. (In fact, the school often came first; the sports hall then serving as a makeshift chapel while the church was built.) And as any connoisseur of modern Catholic architecture will be aware, concrete was very much in vogue.