Fired-up MPs get action on arson threat

29th May 2009 at 01:00
Minister to hold talks after TES reveals only 400 schools have sprinklers

Schools minister Jim Knight has agreed to hold meetings with council chiefs, academy builders and insurance bosses to find out why only 400 of the UK's 32,000 schools have sprinklers, despite a government order that they should be installed in all new classrooms.

A recent article in TES Magazine (pictured below) reported that 90,000 pupils are affected by arson each year, and an average of 20 schools are damaged or destroyed by deliberate fires each week at an annual cost of Pounds 58 million.

There have been 290 injuries from school fires in the past 10 years. Each year, more than 1,300 UK schools suffer fires serious enough to warrant attendance by the fire brigade; 55 per cent are started deliberately.

MPs this week used the figures revealed by The TES to urge Mr Knight to take action. And last week the Tories revealed new figures that show the police have been called to school due to arson attacks over 3,000 times in the last two years.

Schools deemed at low risk of attack are not required to have sprinklers fitted. But in 2007, Mr Knight announced that all new-builds, including academies and those in the Building Schools for the Future programme, should have sprinklers.

He told MPs he had been informed that installing sprinklers would increase building costs by just 2 per cent, which is why the policy was introduced.

"But because of the lead-in times around designing and building schools, and with the new guidance only being introduced in 2007, it is difficult to judge the impact," he said.

"The early indications are that whereas previously less than 10 per cent of new schools had sprinklers installed, as many as 75 per cent may now have them.

"I would like to see the figure higher still, but it is clear that some progress is being made."

Mr Knight will meet with the Local Government Association, academies co-ordinator Partnerships for Schools, and Zurich, the main school insurance company. He said he would review guidance given to local authorities to see whether there was more he could do to get them to follow it.

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