Unions issue fire safety guidance for school leaders in wake of Grenfell Tower tragedy

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Tragedy: The Grenfell Tower disaster has brought into sharp focus the issue of cladding and sprinklers in schools (Image: Adobe Stock)

Schools are being offered advice on fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

A guidance document has been published by three education unions answering common questions, including about combustible cladding and asbestos.

It comes after concerns were raised earlier this year that government guidance on fire safety in school buildings is being ignored in the “rush to build new schools as cheaply as possible”.

Current guidance on new school builds – the Building Bulletin 100 document – states that all new schools, with the exception of a few low-risk schools, should have sprinklers fitted. However, since 2010, only 35 per cent of new schools have been fitted with sprinklers.

In July, the National Union of Teachers, Fire Brigades Union and Association of Teachers and Lecturers, wrote to education secretary Justine Greening raising the issue and seeking assurance that a previous proposal to allow new schools to be built without sprinkler systems will not be adopted.

The new guidance – entitled Fire Safety in Schools Post-Grenfell Fire – has been published by the National Education Union (NEU), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and Association of School and College Leaders.

A joint statement said: “Unlike Grenfell Tower, school buildings have a common fire alarm system and practise evacuation procedures. Nevertheless, a fire involving combustible cladding on the outside of a school poses a risk to children and staff which must be taken seriously.”

Two schools required inspections by the Fire and Rescue Service following the DfE’s programme of cladding checks following the Grenfell Tower fire.

However, the three unions want the DfE to survey all school buildings “to determine whether any inappropriate cladding has been used in their construction”.

At the same time, an asbestos survey should be carried out to establish the location and condition of all asbestos in our schools, they say.

The unions are also campaigning for a legal requirement that all new and refurbished school buildings are fitted with a sprinkler system.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “In the aftermath of the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower attention has rightly focused on others who could be at risk, including children and school staff. All new and refurbished schools should be fitted with sprinkler systems and a review of cladding on all schools needs to take place.”

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, added: “We need a concerted effort to identify the existence of asbestos within schools and, as a minimum, all new and refurbished schools should have sprinklers fitted as standard. School leaders take the safety of buildings very seriously, and we need the government to provide the right support and investment the school estate so desperately needs.”


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