Sprinklers are unlikely to be made mandatory in the 50 school rebuilding projects announced last week because the government’s consultation into fire safety has been delayed.
The Department for Education has committed to revising its guidance on fire safety design for new schools. The current guidance says that all new schools should have fire sprinklers installed, “except a few” that are “low risk”.
Much of the £1 billion investment will be wasted on repairing the fire damage that sprinklers could have easily prevented
But fire safety campaigners – who have been calling for sprinklers to be mandatory in new and refurbished schools for several years – say there are a number of “loopholes”.
Schools Week reported in 2017 that the proportion of new schools being built with sprinklers had halved to just 35 per cent since 2010. A full consultation on the fire safety guidance, expected to be published last autumn, has been delayed because of the pandemic.
Government response almost 18 months overdue
The 50 schools, part of the first phase of a 10-year rebuilding programme promised by ministers, will share £1 billion in funding. Building work is due to start from autumn this year.
That leaves six months for the DfE to update its guidance, depending on the outcome of the consultation. The DfE said this would be published “shortly”.
Tilden Watson, head of education at insurance agency Zurich Municipal, said that currently “much of the £1 billion investment will be wasted on repairing the fire damage that sprinklers could have easily prevented”.
The DfE says that all schools are required to have an up-to-date fire risk assessment. Where sprinklers are considered necessary, they must be installed.