All new and refurbished schools in the UK should be fitted with sprinklers, fire chiefs say.
It’s currently not essential for schools in England and Northern Ireland to have sprinklers installed, although such safety measures are mandatory in Scotland and Wales.
With more than 700 fires occurring in schools each year, London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton has accused the government of “playing with children’s lives” by failing to introduce stricter sprinkler rules.
At present, the government’s fire safety guidance says that it is the DfE’s “expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted”, unless a school is “low risk” and installation “would not be good value for money.”
However, less than a third of the 260 schools built since 2014 under the Schools Building Programme have sprinklers. Just 5% of all schools in England and Wales have sprinklers.
Ms Cotton said that the London Fire Brigade recommended sprinklers in 184 new or refurbished schools last year, and yet only four of these schools followed the advice.
Fire safety rules for schools were almost relaxed last year, when the DfE in England began a consultation on new draft guidance and proposed making changes that would mean sprinklers in schools were not necessary or expected.
The consultation was dropped after the Grenfell fire and the guidance wasn’t changed.
Talking about the draft guidance, Ms Cotton said: “I think it was outrageous. I thought ‘How can we play with children’s lives like that?’
“I just do not understand why it wouldn’t be made compulsory and wouldn’t be made a requirement to fit sprinklers in schools at new-build stage.
“And what I don’t want to see is a very large school fire to be the thing that brings about that change.”
The DfE says all schools must have a Fire Risk Assessment and new schools should undergo an additional safety check during the design process.