‘IRRESPONSIBLE TORIES!’ – Unions demand schools fire safety assurances

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THE NUT and ATL teachers unions, and the FBU (Fire Brigades Union), yesterday accused the Tory Government of being ‘grossly irresponsible’ for having brought forward proposals to allow schools to be built without fire sprinklers, with combustible material used for cladding and large school compartments to be without sprinklers.

Without the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy, the NUT, FBU and ATL are certain the revised and watered-down Building Bulletin would have become the Department’s official advice, with potential dire consequences for health and safety in schools, they said.

In a letter to Tory Education Secretary, Justine Greening, sent yesterday, the unions demanded the government:

• Confirm that it has in fact abandoned attempts to weaken fire safety advice for schools and will not be proceeding with the revised Building Bulletin;

• Bring forward legislation to require sprinklers to be fitted to all new schools as the current system, based on an ‘expectation’ that this will happen, has clearly failed;

• Review all schools built since 2010 without sprinklers to determine whether they should have been built without sprinklers on the basis of risk, and provide us with the supporting evidence for each decision;

• Ensure that all decisions about sprinkler installation are centrally monitored;

• Instigate urgent checks by qualified and competent assessors on all required and recommended fire safety measures including the suitability of the cladding used on school buildings, set out a timetable for the removal of all combustible cladding and ensure that combustible cladding is never again used on school buildings.

Kevin Courtney, National Union of Teachers 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 afterthought and an opportunity to try to cut corners and save money. We all now know the terrible consequences of that approach.’

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: ‘The safety of the public and firefighters is a concern for us all, but 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. I urge the government to announce an early commitment to take action on these matters.’

Dr Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, said: ‘The government needs to listen to the advice of fire safety experts, prioritise the health and safety of pupils and school staff and ensure that all schools are as safe as possible from fires. Keeping pupils and staff safe is far more important than penny-pinching.’