Flood schools ‘left at risk of another disaster’

18th March 2016 at 00:00
Heads unable to find funding to pay for extra protection measures

It was a disaster; schools had to deal with cancelled classes, ruined furniture and submerged sites after storms brought recordbreaking downpours at the end of last year.

Now heads are warning that their insurance policies have left them vulnerable to further calamity – unless the government steps in.

Schools have been told that their insurance does not cover the installation of flood-resistant fixtures or fittings, meaning a potential repeat of the closures and disruption they faced this academic year after being lashed by Storms Desmond and Eva last December.

Some have applied for funding from the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency. Unless funding decisions are reached soon, they will have to rebuild school sites with materials that are unlikely to be able to withstand another flood.

Trinity School in Carlisle was closed for a month after flooding wrecked furniture, caused heating and hot-water failures, and submerged the sports arena under 7ft of water.

The school wants to move boilers and server rooms to upper floors, and to move the sports arena away from the flood path. Co-headteacher Sheila Johnston said that this would “make much better financial sense in the long term”.

She added: “Our students won’t have access to PE facilities probably for the rest of the academic year. That’s devastating.”

But moving the boilers alone will cost £500,000, which the school’s insurance policy will not cover. Trinity has appealed to the DfE for additional funding. Ms Johnston said: “They’re being sympathetic, but there are a number of schools affected and there’s a finite budget.”

Another flood-hit school, Burnley Road Academy in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, has been told that its insurance company will only replace its plaster and skirting boards with flood-resistant versions if they cost no more than non-flood-proof materials, and will only move the electricity mains above the water line if the existing system is found to be faulty.

‘Plan for the worst’

Headteacher Clare Cope is waiting to hear how much the flood-proofing will cost, but the school faces having to find the cash itself. Ms Cope explained that she will have to keep funds in reserve in case the school is flooded again. This would come from money for books and “may mean we don’t spend as much on playground equipment for the children”, she added.

St Michael’s on Wyre CE Primary School near Preston, Lancashire, has had to run classes from a farm, a church and a nearby college after its site was completely flooded by Storm Desmond. Three months after the storm subsided, the school is still operating from temporary classrooms, paid for by insurance, while its original building dries out.

But it is in discussions with the local council to obtain anti-flooding measures, such as floodgates for doors, and non-return sewage valves, which are not covered by its insurance policy, said headteacher Cathy Brough.

John Reardon, NUT secretary for Carlisle, said local authority support for schools affected by flooding had been “patchy”.

“Some [councils] have been proactive, but some have been poor,” he said, adding that a number of council officers had, at times, seemed “completely out of their depth”.

A DfE spokesman said: “We recognise that there is still significant damage to some school buildings. We are in contact with the schools and their local authorities to offer the necessary support to help repair the damage with as little disruption as possible.”

The department is working with local authorities and schools to ensure that improvements to flood resilience are also considered when repairing damaged schools, he added.

The spokesman said that schools should be members of the department’s risk protection arrangement, or be commercially insured against flood risk. He said the DfE expected the costs of all works to “restore schools to normal operation” to be met swiftly by the RPA or by commercial insurers.


For more on how to survive a school flood, see next week’s issue of TES magazine

‘We had to close for a month’

Trinity School, Carlisle, had to close for a month after floods caused by Storm Desmond left 40 per cent of its site under water. Five out of six boiler rooms were affected, leaving the building without any hot water or heating. Three of its server rooms, which control the door system, phones and cards for lunch payments, were also flooded. The sports arena and gym were left completely out of bounds.

In some ways, it was lucky that the period partly coincided with the Christmas break. But co-headteacher Derek Kay said the flooding had a severe, and ongoing, impact on the school, particularly affecting sports facilities. “Everybody agrees that what we experienced was a disaster,” he said.

It was the second time the school had been damaged by flooding in the past 10 years, but its insurance policy will only pay for like-for-like replacements and does not cover any “betterment” repairs.

The school hopes to obtain some extra money from the Education Funding Agency for floodproofing measures but has to ensure facilities are fully reopened for the next academic year. Unless a funding decision is forthcoming, it faces having to repair the building with the same materials that failed to withstand last year’s flooding.

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