Four education unions have written to the education secretary urging him to act on fire safety. The letter follows the fire earlier this month at the Cube student accommodation building in Bolton, and has been signed by representatives of the National Education Union (NEU), National Union of Students (NUS), University and College Union (UCU) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). In the letter to Gavin Williamson they call the government’s record on fire safety ‘shameful’ and say that previous concerns they have raised have been ‘ignored’. They argue that fires in schools in England are ‘far too common’, with 2000 in the past five years – of those schools affected only 3 per cent were fitted with sprinklers the unions say.

Among the actions that the signatories are calling on Mr Williamson to take are prohibiting the use of flammable cladding on any educational building, as well as removing existing flammable cladding from all educational buildings regardless of height. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 the government ordered school buildings be checked for flammable cladding, but only those buildings over 18 metres tall. They also urge the education secretary to make the fitting of sprinkler systems mandatory for all new educational buildings and retrofit sprinklers in all existing educational buildings. Figures are cited of only 15 per cent of new schools being fitted with sprinklers under the Priority Schools Building Programme.

The letter also points out that the government has yet to publish either the evidence submitted, or a response to, its consultation on design for fire safety in schools, which closed at the end of May 2019. This makes the response to the consultation approximately three months overdue, though publication of any response will now be on hold during the general election ‘purdah’ period. The signatories call for an additional review to now take place ‘of all existing educational buildings to ensure they meet necessary fire safety standards’.

The letter concludes: ‘The record of your government in removing flammable cladding from residential tower blocks is so poor despite the commitment made in the immediate aftermath of the [Grenfell Tower] fire, that we believe it is essential that you set a deadline of no longer than 18 months for all educational buildings to be made safe.’

The Department for Education and Mr Williamson have yet to respond to the letter, but any response is likely to again be affected by the election ‘pudah’ rules.

The full letter can be viewed at: https://neu.org.uk/media/7536/view

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