Business Sprinkler Alliance



A headteacher was said to be ‘devastated’ when her infant school was partially destroyed by a fire in Somerset. The May bank holiday fire at Yatton Infant School has had a huge impact on the community and is a painful reminder of the damage, disruption and the costs incurred when educational buildings are subject to fire.  With fewer than one-in-ten new schools having been built with a sprinkler system installed it is time we changed that.

The fire on May 31st required six crews and 36 firefighters from the Avon Fire and Rescue Service. Whilst the Fire and Rescue service brought the fire under control there was extensive damage to six classrooms in the school which means half of its facilities are not functional, posing significant challenges to the learning environment. The school had no sprinklers fitted and the impact will be felt by at least 100 of the 300 pupils who have been displaced to other local schools in Yatton and Congresbury for the rest of the summer term. When the children return after the summer holiday, temporary or further alternative spaces will be needed for the classrooms requiring reconstruction.

The government recognises the profound impact of missing lessons on students' attainment at key stages. The impact of school fires such as this and the disruption that they cause can hinder students’ academic results, and the government’s own statistics support this.

It is important to highlight that fires do not necessarily need to damage an entire school to cause significant disruption. A fire that damages any educational space has an impact and the loss of six 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 that it will have to cope with work to remediate the fire damage, being educated beside what will amount to a construction site.  As a result, the disruption will continue for many months.

Some may assume that schools are designed to withstand the risks they will be exposed to whether that is fire, flood, theft, or storm, etc. Too often a building is conceived with limited 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 that 390,000 teaching hours could be lost in the next year as a result of large fires, causing disruption for 28,000 children. The average repair bill for large fires alone is £2.9 million while certain fire incidents can incur costs as high as £20 million.

From disruption to education, to its repercussions 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 through central funding, 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.

The damage and disruption caused by the blaze in Yatton serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of fire safety in schools. The question we must ask ourselves is how many more such fires and disruptions to children's education need to occur before sprinkler installation becomes an essential prerequisite of school design and safety? Each additional day missed due to fire-related incidents harms not only children's academic attainment but also their life chances.




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