Published April 14, 2019
Less than one in six new schools have fire sprinklers fitted according to figures released by the Government.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb has revealed that only 15% of new schools built in England were fitted with sprinklers.
He was responding to a question raised by Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock who raised concerns about school fire safety.
Mr Gibb admitted that only 105 of the 673 schools built under the Priority Schools Building Program from 2011 to this year include fire sprinkler systems.
He insisted sprinklers were only installed where ‘necessary’ prompting a furious response from Labour MPs and fire union chiefs.
Ms Peacock, a former teacher, said: “It beggars belief that we even have to debate having the highest standards of fire safety in schools but clearly that is yet another victim of this government’s obsession with austerity.
“The ridiculous thing is that we spend far more rebuilding and repairing schools after fires than we would have paid to install sprinklers in the first place, making this an utterly false economy.
“These figures raise just one more question mark over the Tories’ free schools, which once again are falling short of the previous school building programs they replaced.
“Not only are the numbers in stark decline from those under Labour, they are getting worse by the year as the Tories strip back standards and cut back investment.
“There have been thousands of fires at our schools in the last decade and it is frankly absurd that the Government won’t stump up the cash to keep them safe.”
Sprinklers are mandatory in new school buildings in Scotland and Wales, but not in England.
Government guidance on safe school design says all new premises should be fitted with sprinklers “except in a few low-risk schools”.
There were no fatalities from school fires in the eight years up to 2017/18, but there were 244 casualties, according to official figures.
The National Education Union said it was “perverse” that ministers were not enforcing the advice.
The Department for Education stressed pupil and staff safety was “paramount” and defended its record.
It added: “All new school buildings must be signed-off by an inspector to certify that they meet the requirements of building regulations and where sprinklers are considered necessary, they must be installed.”
The Fire Brigades Union insists the revelations show ‘complacency’ on behalf of the government.
A spokesman, said: “We’ve made it clear that newly-built schools and other high-risk buildings should have sprinkler systems.
“Sprinklers can assist in the control of a fire in its early stages, limiting damage and giving occupants additional time to escape, as well as reducing the risks faced by firefighters attending the incident.”
Nadine Houghton, national officer for schools at the GMB trade union, told The Guardian the revelations were “absolutely terrifying” and demanded urgent action.
She said:“How can we trust ministers with our safety when they have a shameful track record of fighting to remove a requirement for new schools to be protected by installing sprinklers?
“Money that is spent on dealing with the aftermath of fires should be being spent on basic prevention such as sprinklers.”
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