Local council supports academy destroyed by fire

A local authority has taken responsibility for dealing with the aftermath of a fire, which destroyed part of an academy in its area, despite the school now being operated by an academy trust.

Selsey academy in Sussex was victim to a major fire on Sunday which saw up to 100 firefighters tackle the blaze ahead of the new academic year in just two weeks.

West Sussex county council has a statutory duty to provide emergency assistance to safeguard children, however it is unclear if the authority must cover the cost of new accommodation or buses for students to attend another school while the site is rebuilt.

Local authorities have seen their education funds slashed by up to 40 per cent in recent years.

And David Borrow, a spokesperson for the County Councils Network, has previously warned that dramatic reductions in the education services grant will prevent councils from adequately supporting schools.

The Department for Education confirmed to Schools Week that it expects councils to handle emergencies of this kind, irrespective of its push to eradicate local authority involvement in schools through its academies expansion.

It also expected that funding would primarily be covered by the school’s insurance company.

A spokesperson for West Sussex county council told Schools Week that while academies are standalone establishments sitting outside of its management, it is ultimately the responsible for the education of all children in the county.

She added: “Our role is to work with the academy’s trust to ensure there are plans in place for all pupils who will be affected by this fire when term starts again [next month].”

Selsey academy, part of The Kemnal academies trust, said they were “grateful” to the emergency services for their support and will work with the council to recover from the “devastating” incident.

Tom Garfield, the school’s headteacher, said: “We’d like to thank the local community, emergency services and parents, students and staff of Selsey academy for their ongoing support following the devastating fire at the academy Sunday morning. We understand that this is a very unsettling time for all involved and are grateful for the help we’ve received.

“Our primary focus is to minimise the disruption for students starting the autumn term in two weeks’ time. We are working closely with local authorities to put contingency plans into place as quickly as possible. We will update all parents and pupils as soon as we can.”

Arrangements have been made for students at Selsey academy to pick up their GCSE results on Thursday from nearby Seal primary school between 10am and 12pm.

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  1. So what happens if all schools in the area are academies and unwilling to cooperate? It’s all very well saying the local authority has a duty but that’s not particularly helpful if it doesn’t have the resources or powers to meet it. I guess the insurance company will have to fund the rebuilding of the school and temporary accommodation in the meantime but it will be interesting to see where these kids go on the first day of term and where the resources come from to make it work.

    • I’m not certain about the process but if there is any expense involved on the county council’s part (other than that involved in their statutory duties around provision of school places) won’t they bill the multi-academy trust who is turn will claim from their insurers? In terms of revenue funding (the actual costs of provision) then I’m sure you could come up with a deal involving temporary deployment of the staff from the affected academy to those taking in the pupils plus a negotiated payment from the revenue grant from EFA. It all depends on the good will of everyone involved and in my experience, people in education – irrespective of who they work for -will rally round round to ensure that young people don’t loose out on their education.

    • It appears that when disaster strikes, LAs must act. This is despite constant propaganda that schools will only thrive outside LA ‘control’. And also despite the fact that every academy conversion means less money going to LAs to fulfil their statutory duties.
      It appears academies want it both ways: to cut loose from LAs while expecting LAs to provide emergency support.
      That said, LAs ARE responsible to ensure every child in their area has access to education. This will involve supporting academies when they need it. But LAs need a contingency fund to finance this support. How about all academies contributing a fixed amount per pupil into an LA-insurance fund to pay for any emergency support?

  2. I am not sure that sprinklers in schools are necessary on fire safely grounds. I worked in many schools during my 32 years service as a teacher. I can recall two instances of fires. One was hot carbon blocks self-igniting in a science preparation room. A sprinkler would not have put it out. There is huge potential for fires in science preparation rooms, but in many cases sprinklers would make the fire worse (eg solvent fires).

    The second was more serious. It was a fire in the basement of a Victorian school building caused by an act of arson by an intruding pupil from another school.

    In both cases the schools were safely evacuated under the supervision of teachers within minutes of the fire alarm being sounded. The most important fire safety measure in schools is enough well designed and signed evacuation routes with termly ‘fire drills’.

    In the example of the school destroyed by fire, this took place on a Sunday, when no pupils were present. It is not obvious that an automatic sprinkler system would have made much difference to the damage caused by such a non-life threatening fire, given the inevitable destructive action of fire hoses that would be needed anyway.

    Sprinklers in schools are problematic. How would they be triggered? If automatically by a localised fire then does only the local sprinkler operate, or all those throughout the school? If the school-wide sprinkler system was automatically deployed when a fire alarm break glass was activated, then it would be prone to false alarms. There is not a school I have worked in that has never been affected by the malicious setting off of a fire alarm by a pupil.

    School classrooms and store rooms contain huge amounts of apparatus, devices, pupils’ work, teachers’ records and resources. An automatic school-wide sprinkler system would cause enormous damage and disruption of pupil learning.

    It is easy to resort to cliches like, ‘Safety must always come first’. So it must, but effectiveness, cost and practicality are always issues. That is why our road speed limits are not much lower.

    I believe it is a fact that no child has ever been killed or seriously injured in a UK school fire, possibly EVER, and certainly not in modern times.

    While I agree that fire safety in schools is of the utmost importance I am unconvinced that sprinkler systems are an appropriate and cost effective response.

    But what would I know? Quite! It is a complex issue that needs expert consideration. Has Labour undertaken this before proposing such a superficially attractive, but massively expensive measure?

    I suspect not.