Headlines: October 21st, 2004

Britian’s biggest teachers’ union, the NUT, is today launching a campaign for sprinkler systems to be fitted in all schools to help cut the one hundred million pounds a year bill for damage caused by fires in schools. The campaign has won the backing of a number of other organisations including the Fire Brigades Union, senior fire officers and the Local Government Association.The NUT says the number of school fires rose by 55 per cent in 2003 and the related costs has gone up by more than 170 per cent over ten years. Up to 20 schools a week are damaged or destroyed by arson with nine out of ten of the fires being started by pupils. Day time arson attacks when pupils are on the premises now make up a third of school fires and insurance premiums for schools doubled between 2001 and 2003, according to the NUT. Zurich Municipal, the main school fire insurer, says it runs a 100 per cent loss on its school insurance business.

At the moment only 150 of Britain’s 28,000 schools are fitted with sprinklers because there is no legal requirement for them. The NUT wants this changed initially to require the installation of sprinklers in new schools and then for this to be extended to existing schools regardless of age. The Government’s 5.1 billion pound school building programme does not include a need for sprinklers but John Prescott, is reviewing the building regulations covering schools, so the NUT believes this is the ideal time to put pressure on the Government for a change in the law. It is writing to Mr. Prescott, other relevant ministers and chief education officers.

Andy Gilchrist, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, one of the organisations already supporting the campaign, has written to the chairs of every fire authority in England and Wales asking them to back the idea of a requirement to install sprinkler systems in new schools and during refurbishments.

Mr. Gilchrist said the campaign was about investing in protecting the fabric of communities and the safety of children. “Sprinkler systems slow down the spread of the fire and will stop an enormous amount of damage. It will also be safer for the thousands of firefighters who tackle school fires every year,” he added.