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Sun June 20 2021

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Insurers slam lax school sprinkler plan

28 May A leading insurance company has hit out at the government’s decision NOT to make sprinklers mandatory in most schools.

The Department for Education has published proposals suggesting that fire sprinklers will only be mandatory in schools that are over 11 metres high, in special education needs schools and in boarding schools.

This means that the vast majority of schools will not be required to have them.

Leading insurer Zurich Municipal, which insures roughly half of all schools in the UK, accused the DfE of “measuring children’s lives in metres” and said that all schools should be fitted with sprinklers.

The government’s plans are contained in the consultation document Building Bulletin 100: fire safety design for schools.

This consultation runs until noon on 17th August 2021.

Tilden Watson, head of education at Zurich Municipal, said: “The government’s proposals are a step in the right direction but still leave the vast majority of schools and pupils exposed to blazes. 

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“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-storey 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.”  

He added:  “School fires cause major disruption to children’s education, with repairs leading to months or even years of upheaval. They also result in the loss of spaces which local communities rely on out of school hours.  Unless ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, where sprinklers are mandatory, large fires will continue to blight children’s education, already severely disrupted by the pandemic, and put lives at risk.” 

Analysis by Zurich of Home Office data covering all 44 fire authorities in England from April 2015 to April 2020 found that fire crews were called to tackle 2,300 school blazes in England, which completely gutted 47 primary and secondary school buildings, and seriously damaged 230 others. Just 2% of the schools were fitted with sprinklers. 

Of more than 1,000 school inspections carried out by Zurich, 66% were rated as having ‘poor’ fixed fire protection systems. Just 14% were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.

A further 24% were judged ‘poor’ for fire detection measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms.

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