Lessons from the Recent Fire at a Lancashire Primary School
A major fire at a school in Lancashire, North West England, has led to its closure and further disruption to students’ education in the run up to the summer holidays.
The fire at the school in Ormskirk on 16th June required six crews from the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, and from Merseyside. Whilst the Fire and Rescue service brought the fire under control there was extensive damage to three classrooms in the building and the school has effectively closed to deal with the aftermath. The school had no sprinklers fitted and the impact will be felt by over two hundred pupils who will have to be displaced to a local university for the last few weeks of term. When the children return after the summer temporary or further alternative spaces will be needed for the classrooms that need to be reconstructed.
The UK government acknowledges that missing lessons has an impact on attainment at key stages and has even announced it is considering extending school days to make up for lost teaching time resulting from Covid-19 related lockdowns. The impact of school fires such as this and the disruption they cause creates additional burdens.
Often, people miss the point that fires do not have to damage an entire school to cause disruption. It is all about educational space and the loss of three classrooms in this school cannot be made up by using alternative space – there is just not that capacity within a school. The damage to the remainder of the school from such a significant fire means it will remain out of action for a prolonged period of time. Some may assume that schools are designed to withstand the risks they will be exposed to whether that is fire, flood, theft, earthquake or storm, etc. Too often a building is conceived without due consideration as to the impact of those risks over the life of the building.
According to a 2020 study by Zurich Municipal1, education insurer for half of the schools and universities in the UK, schools in England have been hit by 2,300 fires in the past five years. It estimates 390,000 teaching hours could be lost in the next year as a result of large fires, causing disruption for 28,000 children.
From disruption to education, to its impact on finances and the local community, fires in schools must be avoided. Although sprinkler systems are a celebrated solution to contain such events and are mandatory in new school buildings in Scotland and encouraged in Wales, their effectiveness has not led to successful implementation across all UK schools.
Sprinklers would help contain the fire and limit the potential damage meaning the interruption to education would be minimised.
With the impact of a blaze so devastating, how many more fires like the one in Ormskirk need to occur and children’s educations disrupted before sprinkler installation becomes a prerequisite of school design and safety? Every extra day missed harms a children’s attainment and their life chances.