UK's BBC reports many new schools lack fire sprinklers
BBC says almost half of England's new school buildings are without fire sprinklers
Following up stories on Radio 4's Today programme and on Radio 5 Live, the BBC has criticised local authorities which are still building new schools without sprinklers.
Almost half of new school buildings in England do not have fire safety sprinkler systems, the BBC has learned. The government issued guidance two years ago saying sprinklers should be fitted in almost all new schools. But 43% of schools to have been re-built or refurbished under the multi-billion pound "Building Schools for the Future" programme lack sprinklers.
A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said some schools may be fitted with alternative methods. There is no official total for the number of schools with sprinklers, but Zurich Insurance says fewer than 500 out of the 32,000 schools in the UK have them.
Every week 20 schools are destroyed or damaged by fire. In one fire, at Tideway Community School in Newhaven, East Sussex in 2005, 40 classrooms were damaged. The school was rebuilt, at a cost of £10.8m, and the new buildings contained sprinklers. Although the number of arson attacks fell slightly last year, the cost of the damage rose to £65m. The government has said it expects sprinklers to be fitted in almost all new school buildings.
However, figures obtained by the BBC from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) show many local authorities are deciding not to fit them. The Chief Fire Officers Association says local authorities which choose not to fit them are putting the safety of pupils and staff at risk. It is calling for the government to make sprinklers mandatory in all new school buildings.
A spokesman for the DCSF said 72 out of 127 schools to have benefited from the "Building Schools for the Future" investment programme are fitted with sprinkler systems. He added: "In cases where sprinklers are not installed, schools may be fitted with alternative fire engineered solutions, or for example in very low risk schools or those with a large atrium, sprinklers may not be the most appropriate form of fire protection.
"The provision of sprinklers is not a requirement of the building regulations. We expect that the education authority or funding body of the BSF scheme should request, as part of the employer's requirements, that a risk assessment be undertaken to assess the validity of providing sprinklers in the scheme.
"We urge all local authorities to ensure that schools within their areas have comprehensive fire safety management plans, fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers on the premises and that they carry out regular fire drills.
"Ultimately what's most important is making sure children are aware of fire safety rules and how to evacuate a building quickly and calmly in the event of a fire."
The Welsh Assembly insists on sprinklers being fitted in all new school buildings which it funds, and has provided money to fit them in existing schools most at risk of arson. In Scotland, a working group will advise ministers later this year on changes to school building safety regulations, including any move to make sprinkler systems mandatory. Sprinklers are not mandatory in schools in Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: "We would encourage all local authorities to include fire suppression systems - sprinklers - in new schools. "The initial financial outlay is relatively small and will be recouped through lower insurance premiums."
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