Joint letter highlights concerns

The Fire Brigades Union and The National Education Union have written to the secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds, about the schools being rebuilt without fire sprinklers.

The letter states: ‘We are writing to you on the issue of fire safety, and sprinklers in schools in particular, following correspondence with your predecessor in the summer of 2017 in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire.

‘We welcomed the Government’s change of heart on Building Bulletin 100, which should mean that all new school buildings are fitted with sprinklers unless they are deemed to be one of ‘a few low risk schools’.

‘It was, in our view, grossly irresponsible for any Government to have brought forward proposals to weaken fire protections in the first place, but without the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy, and our representations, we consider it highly likely that the weakened Building Bulletin would have become the Department’s official advice, with potentially dire consequences.

‘It was announced on 23 January that Selsey Academy, a school in West Sussex operated by the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) which was almost completely destroyed by fire in 2016 would be rebuilt without a sprinkler system fitted.

‘We find this decision incomprehensible. We are aware that the possibility of including a sprinkler system was tabled at a very early point in the design process for the new Selsey Academy.

‘As the original building had no sprinkler system, however, the underwriter declined to include such a system on the claim.

If all decisions were made on this basis sprinklers would never be fitted for re-builds, because no school fitted with a sprinkler system has ever burned down.

TKAT was then left in the unenviable position of having to decide if they could fund the inclusion of sprinklers within the project and cover the cost of the system, around £300,000, from their regular capital funding allocation, which in the current climate was not possible.’

Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “The government’s attitude toward fire safety is shockingly cavalier.

“Sprinklers play an important role in preventing the growth of fire, limiting damage to buildings and saving lives.

“The cost of fitting sprinklers represents a very low investment when weighed against the potential threat to life, the damage to buildings and the disruption of children’s education if there is a fire in a school.

“It is essential that the government act immediately to make it a legal requirement for sprinklers to be fitted in all new school buildings.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Grenfell Tower should have been a defining moment in the way we view safety in public buildings but it seems that health and safety is still seen as an opportunity to cut corners and save money. 

“The same protections which apply across Wales and Scotland should cover England too. It’s clear that the only way forward is for the ‘expectation’ that sprinklers be fitted to new school buildings to become a legal requirement. 

“Otherwise the policy will continue to be flouted.”

Original source

Education Executive