Education sector still waiting on crucial fire safety advice

School Fire Alarm

The government is being accused of “dragging its heels” over “crucial” new fire safety guidance for new school buildings.

Last year, the Department for Education launched a major consultation on building design for fire safety in schools.

Home Office figures show that in the 2021-22 financial year, there were more than 300 fires at schools in England – almost one a day. And since the consultation closed, more than 120 new schools have opened, including 23 new special schools. However, 13 months since the consultation closed, the Department for Education has yet to publish its final advice.

The consultation was to see “if additional fire safety measures should be included and whether there is content that is no longer needed”. Last year, the government was proposing to make sprinklers mandatory in new schools above 11 metres high, special education needs schools and boarding schools.

However, councils are now making their own decisions as they await the guidance decision, which has fuelled concerns of a “postcode lottery”.

Many were critical of the proposed changes to sprinkler guidelines, with Tilden Watson, head of education at Zurich Municipal, saying at the time:

“The government’s proposals are a step in the right direction but still leave the vast majority of schools and pupils exposed to blazes.

“By limiting sprinklers to schools above 11 metres, the government is effectively writing off a significant proportion of the school estate.  This will create a two-tier system of safety, which is arbitrary and ill-thought-through.

“As predominantly single-story buildings, primary schools will be hardest hit, especially as they already suffer nearly twice the rate of blazes as secondary schools.

“Pupil safety and education will become a lottery based on school height. Parents are likely to be concerned that their children’s lives are being measured in metres.”

And now, the government is facing even more criticism for failing to publish its conclusion, which was due by the end of 2021.

Hayley Dunn, a business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the lack of response “shows an alarming lack of urgency over the crucial issue of fire safety”

“It is frustrating that the government is now dragging its heels over a decision on what measures to put in place. In the meantime, school buildings are being designed, commissioned and built without clarity over this matter.”

A DFE spokesperson said the safety of pupils and staff in schools was “paramount, which is why we are reviewing our fire safety guidance to strengthen the requirements on new buildings, or for when major alterations are taking place to existing buildings”.

The department was “analysing feedback” and “plans to respond to the consultation shortly”.

Do you need help with your school fire risk assessment?

Fire safety should be a high priority for any school, and if you’re concerned about fire safety in your school, are concerned about fire safety guidance and legislation, and are looking for help with your school fire risk assessment, we can help. Contact us at Martyn Young Fireproof Consultant for more information.

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