Keep fire sprinkler systems for new schools

Building Bulletins are somewhat of an esoteric area of education policy. Nonetheless they are an important one and over the years have helped shape policy on school design and architecture. They haven’t always got it right, and there is always a tension between design standards and the cost of building a new school. Indeed, some local authorities have space standards for new schools that are more demanding that those issued by the government. But, they have been an important part of our education policy agenda for as long as I can remember.

Indeed, my first fieldtrip as a lecturer way back in the early 1980s was with a group of MA students, from the now University of Worcester, to interview then then head of Architects and Building Branch at the DES, located as it was in those days in a 1960s office block adjacent to Waterloo Station.

Now, I don’t often pray in aid the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday in this blog, but they seem to have unearthed an important story about the government downgrading the need for fire sprinkler systems in new schools to be built in the future http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3761631/You-putting-children-s-lives-risk-Safety-storm-Ministers-drop-requirements-fire-sprinklers-fitted-new-schools.html This at the end of a week when a secondary school in Sussex was partly gutted by a fire.

Arson of school buildings, although not as prevalent as a few years ago, remains a risk to school, especially as the new school year approaches. Sprinklers, at least to the standard of protect the building, can play an important part in reducing fire damage. There is a higher, and presumably more costly standard of protecting lives that would presumably only apply to boarding premises in schools as most schools can easily be evacuated, and fires, especially arson, often start when the school is empty.

If the change to Building Bulletin 100, issued by the Labour government in 2007, is true and there will be no need for sprinkler systems to be fitted in new schools that seems a short-sighted move to me. However, the government will increasingly have to bear the cost of any fire damage as academies will be their responsibility and not under the oversight of local authorities, so presumably someone has decided that the cost of either higher insurance premiums for the greater risk of a building without a sprinkler system or the re-building cost outweighs the cost of installing systems in all news schools funded by the DfE through the Funding Agency.

Personally, I think this a short-sighted decision that doesn’t take into account the personal costs involved in a fire that destroys a school and all the work of pupils and staff it contains. Water damage, although bad, is half as destructive as a school gutted by a fire. I would urge everyone that reads this blog to follow-up on this story and question the appropriateness of the decision. After all, we don’t want to see arson levels return to where they were in the bad old days.

 

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One thought on “Keep fire sprinkler systems for new schools

  1. I can’t find the announcement which the Mail says was ‘quietly’ published on the DfE website. However, I did find a consultation dated June 2016 (https://consult.education.gov.uk/capital/bb101-school-design-iaq-comfort-and-ventilation/supporting_documents/DfE%20Ventilation%20guide%20consultation%20draft%2029%2006%202016.pdf).
    The Association of British Insurers responded by saying the DfE should be strengthening fire regulations not weakening them. It wrote: ‘The ABI and our members have serious concerns over what appears to be a weakening of advice on the installation of automatic fire sprinklers in new build schools.’
    Perhaps the DfE is cynically relying on LAs to support fire-damaged schools even if they are academies. After all, it was the LA that stepped in after the Sussex academy fire. http://schoolsweek.co.uk/local-council-supports-academy-destroyed-by-fire/ Or that LAs and academy trusts will foot the bill for increased fire insurance – they will, of course, have no choice.

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