Jane Embury looks at fire safety in schools
The price of education has just gone up, according to a group of consultants.
Remediation work to repair or replace defective elements in English schools has risen to an estimated £11.4 billion.
The figure is contained in the Department for Education’s latest Condition of School Buildings Survey. This was produced by Aecom, Capita, Faithful+Gould and RLB.
They collected data on 22,031 schools across England. It involved over 300 building surveyors and engineers.
The data includes an assessment of the condition of each building. It also includes data on, for example, electrical wiring test certificates and fire risk assessments.
This is a significant rise from the £6.7 billion estimate in the National Audit Office’s 2017 report on schools.
The report finds that schools in the South East and West Midlands each require £1.7 billion of remedial needs, the highest in England.
The figures are hardly a surprise. Zurich Municipal which insures 50% of the UK school buildings carried out an inspection spanning two years and found that 67% of English Schools were rated as having poor fire protection provision. Only 5% were classed as excellent.
Part of the problem is that many schools date back to the 1960s. Indeed, that decade provides the period with the largest representation in terms of available floor area.
It’s an issue that we have been closely involved with over the years, supplying our advanced systems for schools and colleges here and internationally.
Internationally, in the recent past, we have provided systems for educational facilities in Hong Kong, Australia and Malta. We therefore understand the importance of protecting buildings against the threat of fire.
Having a comprehensive fire risk assessment and evacuation plan are obligatory requirements because, despite fire being a diminishing risk, it’s still a very real risk.
So much so, that school fires cost the country some £65 million per year. In England alone, there are about 700 school fires a year.
Zurich Municipal which insures 50% of the UK school buildings recently carried out an inspection spanning two years and found that 67% of English Schools were rated as having poor fire protection provision. Only 5% were classed as excellent.
Zurich wants the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire.
Sadly, some school fires are deliberate. It’s estimated that one in eight schools annually suffers a serious arson attack, some 32% of all school fires. A third of those happen during the school day.
Our compatible steel systems, with our internal and external glass and framing systems tested together, are accredited to EU, US and Asia Pacific standards.
Our advice is to always specify the glass and frame as one unit: in a real fire situation, the glass will only be as protective as its frame, and vice versa.
The real cost of arson in schools, apart from the capital outlays required to repair the damage, is the disruption caused – for example, the loss of coursework that can have severe exam consequences.
Many school fires are started externally, but which spread internally. A simple rule is to keep all flammable materials – for example, refuse – safely secured away from school buildings.
But we now have an advanced system that provides a new answer. Most advanced glazing systems only provide one-way fire resistance, usually from the inside of a building.
This ensures that, if a fire does break out, it’s contained within a discrete area of the school. It isn’t allowed to spread externally and then to other areas of the school.
It was successfully tested to 148 minutes integrity and insulation, with the exterior building surface facing into the furnace.
This made the test significantly more demanding on the system components. But, importantly, it means that the system is dual directional fire resistant.
Companies like Wrightstyle continue to invest in developing next-generation glazing systems to make the world a safer place.
We’re proud of our contribution to the evolution of fire-resistant glazing, and what better place to start building in complete safety than schools.