As reported in The Guardian, The Mirror and the by the BBC on 14th April, Ministers have admitted to Stephanie that less one in six new schools have sprinklers installed, flying in the face of official policy and revealing a significant recent decline.
Written answers to Parliamentary Questions from the Labour MP, a former teacher, reveal that of 673 schools built by the Department under the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) and free schools programme by February 2019, sprinklers are fitted in just 105 of these schools, less than 1 in 6.
The government’s flagship free schools are far less likely to be protected, with under 4% or less than 1 in 25 free schools benefiting from sprinkler systems.
The figures have dramatically worsened since the Labour government set higher fire safety standards in 2007, and even since the first phase of the PSPB, which saw around 30% of schools fitted.
This comes despite official figures showing there have been over 7,000 fires at educational establishments including schools in the last decade, with hundreds of injuries and repair or rebuilding costs vastly exceeding those of fitting sprinklers in the first place.
Government guidance states that “All new schools should have fire sprinklers installed except in a few low risk schools.” In 2016, Tory Ministers had attempted to to remove this requirement, but were forced to back down following a furious backlash from trade unions, fire chiefs and the Labour Opposition. Following recent Labour calls to strengthen standards further, the Department for Education has recently agreed to consult on the regulations.
The Selsey Academy school in Sussex, which did not have a sprinkler system and was destroyed in a fire, has just been rebuilt without sprinklers as an apparent cost-saving measure.
Commenting on the answers to her questions, Stephanie Peacock MP said:
“It beggars belief that we even have to debate having the highest standards of fire safety in schools but clearly that is yet another victim of this government’s obsession with austerity. The ridiculous thing is that we spend far more rebuilding and repairing schools after fires than we would have paid to install sprinklers in the first place, making this an utterly false economy.
“These figures raise just one more question mark over the Tories’ free schools, which once again are falling short of the previous school building programmes they replaced. Not only are the numbers in stark decline from those under Labour, they are getting worse by the year as the Tories strip back standards and cut back investment.”
“There have been thousands of fires at our schools in the last decade and it is frankly absurd that the Government won’t stump up the cash to keep them safe.”