School fire safety must come first

Ian Lavery MP.
Ian Lavery MP.

Following the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London there has been much speculation about the use of fitting sprinklers as a safety measure in public buildings.

A recent fire that destroyed one classroom and severely damaged another three at a Bedlington school has further raised concerns that so many of our new, or even refurbished, school buildings are not being fitted with sprinklers.

Research has shown at least half of new school buildings are not being protected by sprinklers, which has prompted many constituents to contact me expressing alarm that they are not being included as a mandatory requirement.

In 2007 the Labour government made it policy to install sprinklers in all new schools, but last year the Conservatives scrapped that requirement. I have no doubt that costs come into the equation, but the safety of our young people has to be the number one priority and must override all monetary considerations.

Labour Party campaigners in Bedlington have started a petition to reverse that change of law and I have written to the government, urging it to ensure that all new school buildings have fire sprinklers fitted.

Thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire at St Benet Biscop High School, but valuable educational facilities have been lost and educationalists say that if they were given the investment they need for basic safety precautions such risks could be dramatically cut.

Sadly, schools are so under-funded these days that they are struggling to run basic services, let alone retro-fit fire safety measures.

Much of the attention surrounding fire safety in public buildings has been focused on tower blocks following Grenfell. What government ministers must not overlook is that our schools and their pupils are equally deserving of all the protection we can give them, and it is their responsibility to ensure that happens.