The London Fire Brigade says that the failure to fit sprinklers in schools could have “potentially devastating consequences”.
Inside Croydon has revealed that not a single one of 35 school builds in Croydon in the past five years have had fire safety sprinklers fitted; 13 of the buildings were constructed specifically for Croydon Council.
According to the council’s own figures, in term time, around 20,000 Croydon children occupy those buildings.
The National Union of Teachers says that any failure to include sprinklers in new school buildings is “unacceptable” and that this has put “children, staff and school property at risk”.
Croydon Council says that it didn’t bother fitting sprinklers in the schools builds because, “There is presently no legal requirement for schools to be fitted with sprinklers.”
This is the same Croydon Council which, following the Grenfell Fire tragedy, announced that it is to retro-fit sprinklers in a handful of residential tower blocks. There is no legal requirement for the council to fit sprinklers in its residential tower blocks, either.
Indeed, it is arguable that there exists more robust requirements on the local authority to have sprinklers included in new-build schools than there is for residential tower blocks.
The rules on sprinklers in schools were set by the Labour government 10 years ago.
In 2007, the Department for Education issued regulations with the “expectation” that all new build schools should have sprinklers. Not for the first time, Croydon Council has failed to meet expectations, in fact 35 times since 2012.
The rules were set out in Building Bulletin 100: Design for Fire Safety in School. When it was issued, Jim Knight, the then schools minister, said: “It is now our expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted. Any exceptions to this will have to be justified by demonstrating that a school is low risk and that the use of sprinklers would not be good value for money.”
It seems inconceivable that in all 35 new builds in Croydon since 2012 those schools, including some of the borough’s largest, might have been deemed to be “low risk”.
Certainly, the London Fire Brigade has higher expectations of local authorities when it comes to fitting schools with sprinklers.
“Sprinklers are as important as smoke alarms in buildings like schools, residential care homes and sheltered accommodation. Fires can move quickly and often silently but sprinklers can stop a fire in its tracks,” said Dan Daly, the assistant commissioner for fire safety when addressing London-wide issues earlier this year.
“We’re very concerned that no longer recognising the important role sprinklers can play in keeping schools safe will have potentially devastating consequences.
“Installing sprinkler systems in schools significantly reduces fire damage and the risk to life while also protecting firefighters carrying out search and rescue operations by limiting the spread of the fire,” Daly said.
Today, the National Union of Teachers called on Croydon Council to demonstrate that it has conducted proper assessment work in every case to justify its decisions not to fit sprinklers in the borough’s schools.
“Building Bulletin 100 states that there is an ‘expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted’,” Sarah Lyons, the NUT’s policy officer for health and safety, told Inside Croydon.
“The Bulletin goes on to say that, ‘Any exceptions to this will have to be justified by demonstrating that each new school is low risk and that the use of sprinklers would not be good value for money’.
“In choosing not to fit sprinklers to new schools Croydon should have demonstrated that each of these schools was low risk and that spending money on a sprinkler would not have been good value for money,” Lyons said.
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