Sprinkler call for schools as fires destroy more than 120 classrooms in five years

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School fires destroyed the equivalent of 127 classrooms in Greater Manchester in the last five years, new figures reveal.

According to analysis of Home Office data by insurer Zurich Municipal, fire crews have been called to tackle 174 school blazes in the region, of which 31 were large fires causing significant damage.

Among them was Westleigh Methodist Primary School which was badly damaged when faulty solar panels sparked a blaze in 2018, and RL Hughes Primary School in Ashton, where there was an arson attack in 2016.

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Headteacher Monica Middlehurst after the fire at RL Hughes Primary School in AshtonHeadteacher Monica Middlehurst after the fire at RL Hughes Primary School in Ashton
Headteacher Monica Middlehurst after the fire at RL Hughes Primary School in Ashton

Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s head of education, said: “Young people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Ministers must ensure no more classroom time is lost for a generation that has already fallen behind. These figures highlight the devastating impact of fires on the school estate. Unless the government changes the law on sprinklers, accidental and malicious fires will continue to blight schools and children’s futures.”

Nationally, between April 2015 and April 2020, 1,467 primary schools and 834 secondary schools were hit by blazes. Just two per cent of these schools were fitted with sprinklers. Zurich estimates the average repair bill for large fires alone is £2.9m, with some fires costing up to £20m.

The findings come as the government embarks on one of the biggest school building booms in recent times, with £1bn being poured into rebuilding 50 schools over the next five years.

But Zurich warns that, without sprinklers, fire could damage five times as many schools as will be improved under the government’s rebuilding programme.

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Mr Watson said: “Fire won’t just wipe out progress in improving the condition of schools, it will send it into reverse. It makes no economic sense to pump millions of pounds into refurbishing schools without protecting them with sprinklers. Sprinklers are proven to contain the spread of blazes and limit the damage they inflict.”

“It’s absolutely right that the government invests in these areas. But without protection from sprinklers, fires will continue to break out unchecked. The PM must prove his ambitions to ‘level up’ Britain are more than a slogan.”

A Wigan Council spokesman said: “The wellbeing of our school children and staff is of paramount importance to us.

“As a result, we have installed sprinkler systems in some borough schools in line with major extensions or new builds and continue to carry out fire risk assessments in line with statutory guidance.”

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