Following the Grenfell tower block disaster, Schools Minister Nick Gibb has confirmed that any schools taller than four storeys (18 metres high) will be examined to establish if they are safe.
The minister moved to reassure school staff, students and parents by confirming that an ‘analysis’ will be carried out to establish if external cladding is present and, if so, whether it meets fire and safety regulations.
Responding to a written parliamentary question, schools minister Nick Gibb said: “The government is taking the potential impact from the Grenfell Tower seriously and, as such, we are taking a strategic approach to the assessment of the wider public sector estate.
“The department is undertaking an analysis of all school buildings to identify those over four storeys high, to ensure we include all buildings that are over 18 metres in our analysis.
“This analysis is to establish what, if any, external cladding has been used on these buildings.”
His answer came in response to a question put to education secretary, Justine Greening, by Labour’s Ian Murray, who asked: “whether schools and education establishments are fully compliant with fire and safety regulations; and if she will ensure that checks will be made to ensure the safety of schools”.
The confirmation that schools will also be included in the checks, follows the news that so far 95 towers in 32 local authority areas across England have all failed fire safety tests.
Universities have also been tasked with reviewing fire safety compliance after it was reported that a number of student accommodation buildings may also have been clad with flammable material similar to that used on Grenfell Tower.
A number of teaching unions, along with the Fire Brigades Union have also written to the Education Secretary asking whether the Government has now decided to abandon changes which would have reduced fire protection for schools and to bring forward legislation requiring all new schools to be fitted with sprinklers.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, told the TES: “Nothing can be more important than protecting children from harm. Fire safety standards and wider building and other safety measures in all schools must be improved with urgency.”
Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, said: “For far too long the government has viewed health and safety as a ‘red tape’ burden. It has been seen as an after-thought and an opportunity to try to cut corners and save money. We all now know the terrible consequences of that approach.”
Adam Davis, a Partner and expert in construction law, said: “Quite rightly, the focus is currently very much on the safety of school buildings, to ensure that staff and pupils are properly protected.
“In the coming months, schools which fail fire safety inspections, particularly those where external cladding has been added, will need to find significant sums of money to carry out remedial work.
“Currently it remains unclear who will be expected to foot the bill for this work and whether there could be legal redress against contractors, specifiers, or cladding manufacturers.”
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