Ministers stand accused of a “shockingly cavalier” approach to fire safety after it emerged some schools are being built without sprinklers.
Since 2010, just 35% of new schools have been fitted with sprinklers and union leaders have written to Education Secretary Damian Hinds to demand action.
Selsey Academy, in West Sussex, is being rebuilt after it burned down in 2016, but will have no sprinklers fitted because, as a new building, it can be classed as “low risk” under Government guidance.
The Fire Brigades Union and the National Education Union say the Grenfell Tower fire “should have been a defining moment” on fire safety, but claim a rush to build new schools cheaply is driving decision.
The Government said schools conduct regular fire drills and can be evacuated within a matter of minutes and all public buildings must comply with fire safety regulations.
Andy Dark, Assistant General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, however, said: “The Government’s attitude toward fire safety is shockingly cavalier. Sprinklers play an important role in preventing the growth of fire, limiting damage to buildings and saving lives.
“The cost of fitting sprinklers represents a very low investment when weighed against the potential threat to life, the damage to buildings and the disruption of children’s education if there is a fire in a school. It is essential that the government act immediately to make it a legal requirement for sprinklers to be fitted in all new school buildings.”
The list of schools without sprinklers includes Kensington Aldridge Academy, built in 2014 at the base of Grenfell Tower in North Kensington.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Grenfell Tower should have been a defining moment in the way we view safety in public buildings but it seems that health and safety is still seen as an opportunity to cut corners and save money.
“The same protections which apply across Wales and Scotland should cover England too. It’s clear that the only way forward is for the ‘expectation’ that sprinklers be fitted to new school buildings to become a legal requirement. Otherwise the policy will continue to be flouted.”
The installation of sprinklers is decided on a case by case basis, the Government has said.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Schools have a range of fire protection measures and new schools undergo an additional check while being designed. Where sprinklers are deemed necessary to keep children safe, they must be installed.
“Schools conduct regular fire drills and can be evacuated within a matter of minutes in the event of a fire. The safety of all pupils and teachers is paramount and all schools should be safe places.”