Install sprinkler systems

This blog discussed the issue of installing sprinkler system in new schools in a post that was dated 28th August 2016. At that time, the government was considering relaxing the rules about the installation of such systems.

There was a BBC new report over the weekend citing a study by the Fire Brigades Union using data obtained following a question from Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock. She found that 105 of the 673 schools built and open by February were fitted with sprinklers. Not surprisingly, the fact that only 15% of new build schools were fitted with sprinkler system has rightly raised concerns.

Some of these schools are likely to be single storey primary schools with good means of evacuation in the event of a fire. However, some will be secondary schools with more than one storey and it is hoped that all of these will have had sprinkler system installed. However, there is no requirement for private schools to install sprinkler systems even when higher risk activities, such as laboratories are located on upper floors.

There are two reasons for installing sprinkler systems, the risk to life and limb and the risk to property.  According to official figures, there were no fatalities from school fires in the eight years up to 2017/18, but there were 244 casualties. The lack of fatalities wouldn’t be used in any other circumstances for scaling back on safety measures, and it shouldn’t be when constructing new school buildings.

However, the risk to property is an equally important reason for installing sprinkler systems in schools of all types. Arson rarely happens when schools are occupied, and often takes place at night. Water damage, although distressing, can be much less costly and disruptive than a building burning down. Even if academies are externally insured for their buildings, the disruption to children’s education is something that should be avoided.

Whether you call it ‘invest to save’ or ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, I am with those that think almost all schools should have sprinkler systems installed. When local authorities carry the risk on their own books, this is an even more important choice as not only are there re-building costs but there may also be significant transport charges moving pupils to other schools.

The most important reasons is that pupil’s education should not be disrupted. Even though coursework is of less importance than it was previously in our examination system, loss of work can affect a child’s progress.

Sprinkler system may not be cheap, but they are a good investment. The government should review the rules over school building to make these system mandatory unless there is a good reason not to install them. They should also ask whether private schools need to be required to take measures when building new schools or extensions above a single storey in height.



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 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.