A new study from Zurich Municipal reveals 480 primary and secondary schools endured fires in 2019, a staggering 40 incidents every month. As a result, almost 20,000 school children have had their education impacted or have been displaced from their usual school building over the same period. The research was compiled by the Zurich data science team through a freedom of information request to the UK Fire and Rescue Services.
Further data analysis by Zurich, a leading insurer of schools in the UK, shows that last year over 15,000m² of classroom space was damaged during blazes last year across 271 primary and 209 secondary schools. Only 2% (seven) of the schools had sprinkler protection in place. According to official figures, only 15% of all new schools built and open in the UK since 2011 have been fitted with sprinklers. Whilst sprinklers are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales, this is not the case in England.
Firefighters have been called to nearly 2,000 school blazes in England alone in the last three years. Malfunctioning appliances or equipment, faulty electrics, arson and kitchen blazes are among the leading causes of school fires. Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8 million to repair and in some cases over £20 million.
Despite being far riskier than average property when it comes to fires, many schools also lack the equipment and adequate fire protection needed to prevent small fires becoming major disasters.
Of more than 1,000 school inspections carried out by Zurich, two thirds (66%) were rated as having ‘poor’ fixed fire protection systems, such as sprinklers, which are proven to significantly reduce the damage caused by fire. Just 14% were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. A further quarter (24%) were judged ‘poor’ for fire detection measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms.
In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1bn to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair programme and a further “£560m in early August. Based on large fires alone, Zurich estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years – a significant portion of the government’s slated investment. Zurich wants the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire.
The findings have also led Zurich to launch a parliamentary petition to urge MPs to change the law on sprinklers in schools.
If more research was carried out on the timings of serious fires, it would probably show that many occur during the holidays when schools are closed and mainly devoid of any security. No CCTV systems being monitored, no regular patrols by council staff, poor response times by Police when residents report suspicious activity etc.
But the lack of sprinkler systems after incidents such as Grenfell betrays a serious attitude problem within the public sector. Nobody is learning from mistakes, nobody is taking respnsibility. No duty of care is being shown, either for buildings or the students. Disgraceful.