The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has criticised new government guidance on fire safety in the classroom, stating that it ‘falls short’ in key areas such as the use of sprinklers.
The Department for Education is currently consulting on proposed revisions to its fire safety guidance for schools in England. Last year, the NFCC, alongside partners in the built environment called for the installation of sprinklers in schools, including the retrofitting of sprinklers in existing school buildings when relevant refurbishment takes place.
However, the NFCC says this new guidance ‘falls well short’ of that and will only require sprinklers in schools over 11m. The original guidance, when first released in 2007, acknowledged the important role of sprinklers and stated that “all new schools should have fire sprinklers installed except in a few low-risk schools”.
In addition to falling short on sprinklers, this new guidance still allows for the use of combustible materials on external walls.
NFCC Sprinkler Lead, Jonathan Dyson said: “These new sprinkler proposals are immensely disappointing and, if implemented, represent a missed opportunity to make our schools safer.
“As the original guidance sets out, sprinkler systems can significantly reduce the degree of damage caused by fire and can reduce the risk to life, which is why it is even more puzzling as to why the Department for Education are intent on watering down the current guidance in England.
“At the moment there is a loophole which means that the number of new schools being built with sprinklers has reduced from 70% in 2007 to around 15%.
“We have called for the installation of sprinklers in schools, including the retrofitting of sprinklers in existing school buildings when relevant refurbishment takes place. We believe this is in line with the policy intent of the original guidance and that the evidence supports such a move.
“School fires can be devastating and the use of sprinklers are proven to not only minimise the disruption to a pupil’s education, but also the impact on their family, the community and the wider education establishment. Schools are important community assets that need protecting.
“Whilst there are proposals in this consultation that we would support, we are calling on the Government to think again on sprinklers and work with us to make our schools safer.”