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Fire Safety (Schools)

Volume 492: debated on Tuesday 19 May 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Barbara Keeley.)

I hope that this will be a sober debate—in the best possible sense of the word. I am pleased this morning, because at 6 am I received a telephone call and heard a baby crying at the other end; my 10th grandchild had just been born—a lovely little girl. She weighs 6 lb 8 oz and is a Glaswegian, by the way. She came early, so I cannot tell hon. Members her name yet, but obviously it will not be Ian.

In the mid-1980s, I was a member of the then Greater Manchester fire and civil defence authority. As a consequence of my experiences working with courageous and dedicated firefighters, I made the rather rash promise, when I left the authority, that within two years of becoming a Member of Parliament, I would organise a campaign to get dangerous foam furniture banned outright, and last year we celebrated the ban’s 20th anniversary. The link between the ban and the introduction of smoke alarms nationwide has saved an estimated 14,000 lives and 100,000 injuries. Changes in the law on fire prevention work extremely well.

Over the past 20 years, the United Kingdom—whatever party has been in power—has been at the forefront in fighting the dangers of fire and introducing measures of prevention to minimise the risk of death and injury from fires. In my view, sprinkler systems in schools are an essential part of that armoury of fire prevention, but despite the efforts of the firefighting community, the insurance industry, teaching unions and the Government’s declared public policy of supporting sprinkler systems in schools, of the 30,000 schools in the UK, only just over 200 have sprinkler systems.

Every week in the UK, 30 schools are damaged or destroyed by arson attacks, and the number of major school fires has risen by 55 per cent., according to the National Union of Teachers. Costs relating to these fires have risen by more than 170 per cent. over the past 10 years, and teaching unions say that the cost of school fires is now equivalent to building 45 new primary schools or employing an extra 3,750 teachers. Fifty people are injured in school fires every year. Thankfully, no one has been killed, but, given the number of fires, the number of children and other people involved, and the nature of the fires—an increasing number are started during school hours—it is only a matter of time before a tragedy strikes.

School fires account for nearly 5 per cent. of all non-dwelling fires every year. In the United States, which has more than 150,000 schools, fire costs are about half those in the United Kingdom. Why? According to the Zurich Municipal insurance company, the answer is quite simple: most American schools have sprinkler systems fitted. Greater Manchester fire and rescue service published a report on arson in schools. It was the work of Terri Byrne, who is the crime and disorder development officer. The research is frightening. Sixty-one per cent. of all UK school fires are deliberate, whereas only 45 per cent.—I say “only”—of other building fires are deliberate. That means that schools are more vulnerable than other buildings.

There is a large number of non-accidental fires in schools, in particular, for reasons that we all understand. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on a narrow, but important subject. One very helpful initiative was taken by the superb Essex fire service, which puts wayward kids through very intensive and demanding firefighting and fire prevention courses. The courses take a number of kids, and at the end of them the kids pass out. I have been there and presented the prizes to them. It puts these rather wayward kids back on the right road. Would he recommend that other fire services look at that and expand that excellent scheme?

The hon. Gentleman is right; indeed, Greater Manchester is a pioneering fire authority working with his authority. Most authorities in Britain have developed such models. Across the country, firefighters are giving their time, free of charge, on evenings and weekends, to establish relationships in the community—with community groups and organisations and children at risk, either from fire or of being involved in setting fires.

Increasingly, fires are being set during school hours, with 25 per cent. actually starting in classrooms. Four out of 10 school fires are started deliberately in normal school hours. In Greater Manchester, six out of 10 school fires are started deliberately. In my own borough of Wigan we have more school fire incidents than any other part of the county and almost double the number in many other boroughs. Overwhelmingly, these fires are being ignited by naked flames such as matches and lighters. The average cost of a small school fire in Greater Manchester is about £50,000. In 2005—the last year for which I can get figures—school fires in Greater Manchester cost about £5 million a year.

Quite frankly, our schools are under attack. It is no wonder that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has been campaigning for the installation of sprinklers to be a legal requirement in all new build schools and college refurbishments. The NUT has also been campaigning for the installation of sprinklers and believes that the total cost of school fires is being seriously underestimated. It believes that the true cost is more than £100 million a year. The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, working with British fire services, says—this is astonishing—that a school has a one in eight chance of a fire, and every week, somewhere in the UK, a school is totally lost to fire.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case on this very important issue. I congratulate him on his new grandfatherly status—I am sure that everyone is delighted for him. He is rightly focusing on the risk to life and limb and the cost of such incidents. However, does he agree that a wider problem is the huge disruption to the education of pupils in the schools themselves? Even if those pupils are nowhere near the building when the fire is lit, the consequences can last for weeks and months, if they are disrupted or their work damaged in any way. There are wider ramifications. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will come on to them in due course.

I have been practising as a grandfather for a number of years—this is my 10th grandchild. I had a misspent youth.

I hope to address the hon. Gentleman’s point in my next comments. Much work has been done by the Local Government Association on the impact—not only the economic but the social costs—on communities, pupils and staff when a fire devastates a school.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on two things: securing this debate and his 10th grandchild. The social cost, to which he referred, tends to spread into the community. Does he agree that, because schools are now used much more by communities, a fire can leave them bewildered and vulnerable? Much more can be done to support communities, and not just the schools.

My hon. Friend is right. The impact does not last only a few days, weeks or months. Sometimes, schools are closed for a year and a half or more, and I hope to give evidence that some teachers’ health is so badly affected that they end up retiring early or cannot return to the school where they worked.

The LGA and its partners produced a very well-researched document, entitled “The Impact of School Fires”, which looked at the economic and social impacts on schools and local communities. It makes it clear that

“the costs of a sprinkler system can be recovered within five years through reduced insurance premiums, which would be reduced by installing sprinklers by around 65 per cent”.

The LGA puts the economic case quite succinctly, but the social case is more devastating:

“The review found that fires have a large direct and indirect cost”

to the community. It goes on to say that

“proportionately, the highest cost of school fires occurs in the South East/London Region (representing 37 per cent of the cost of all school fires)”,

but

“metropolitan areas experience higher frequencies of school fires and”,

therefore, the greatest total cost and risk. The report says:

“One in eight schools suffers a serious arson attack and 75 per cent of school fires are the result of a malicious fire”,

and goes on to say that

“damage can affect exam results, mean temporary accommodation is needed and result in disruption as a result of rebuilding and insurance cannot replace lost school work and lost school days.”

It states that

“it is estimated that the education of 90,000 children is disrupted by school fires each year…17 per cent of schools who had experienced a fire said that it had led to a drop in staff morale, six per cent to a drop in morale amongst pupils and seven per cent said that their fire had led to negative publicity about their school.”

That is a devastating blow to pupil and staff morale. It also says that

“the increase in the number of extended schools (and the requirement for all schools to offer extended services by 2010) means that, increasingly, entire communities can be affected by a school fire.”

A fire undermines the capacity of community groups to continue to operate. The evidence is all in place.

Craig McCartney—no relation to me—is a teacher at Copleston high school in Suffolk. Believe it or not, pupils set fire to that school. The damage cost more than £1 million. Inevitably the delay between the fire and the rebuilding work meant that there was no staffroom or other facilities for 18 months, thereby causing major stress to both pupils and staff. Teaching unions and the fire service have literally hundreds of examples of personal hardship caused by school fires.

After a fire in Clifton primary school in Greater Manchester, the pupils had to use a church hall, but they could not be educated on Mondays because the hall was already booked. The rebuilding work was done around the children in some of the classes, and it took a year before all the work was complete. Loss adjusters ground down the head teacher and governors over some of the costs. The children’s education was severely disrupted and the impact immense: SATs results fell from 80 per cent. to around only 53 per cent. I am pleased to say that they are well over 80 per cent. again. For the affected children, the damage cannot be undone. Such was the effect of stress on the head teacher in trying to keep his school and community going, he had to retire at the age of 52 and never go back to the school again.

Before my right hon. Friend was even a Minister, let alone a Minister in this Department, he had a long record of campaigning on fire safety issues. He was a very active member of the all-party group that I helped to establish some 20 years ago. I know that in this debate I have a Minister who not only understands the issues—both intellectually and organisationally—but is a friend at court in terms of what we need to do. The debate is not about chivvying along this Minister; it is about finding a way for him to put into practice what he believes is the current policy, which is that local authorities are required to install sprinklers in new schools.

Will my right hon. Friend consider an example in Gloucestershire, in which a new school, Rednock, is being built under PFI arrangements? It is not open yet. At a late stage in the planning, Gloucestershire county council decided to make a budget cut and took the sprinkler system out of the plans. That cannot be acceptable. I raised the matter with the council and asked it not to do it, but it wilfully carried on. That is not acceptable, is it?

It is absolutely scandalous. There is no financial, safety or community rationale for doing what Gloucester did. My hon. Friend may want to go back to the council because, at the weekend, the Fire Service College, which has been in Gloucester for 30 years, was burned down. If it had installed a sprinkler system, it would have been okay.

My right hon. Friend the Minister made a very important statement on 9 November 2007 in which he said:

“There is now a presumption that new schools, built under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, will include sprinklers in the vast majority of cases. BSF is the largest school building programme in 50 years and will involve every primary and secondary school in the country being refurbished or rebuilt.”

The policy, therefore, is absolutely clear, so what we need to discuss is how to implement it on a wide scale.

Fire safety manager, Officer Mark O’Meara, carried out a survey of local authorities in Greater Manchester, and the results make sobering reading. Three boroughs have no policy of fitting sprinklers in BSF or other new schools. Six boroughs have a policy to fit sprinklers, but not all of them use the Government’s national toolkit, so they cannot guarantee the outcome. My borough of Wigan, which I will come back to in a moment, is to fit an aqua mist system. One borough indicates that the toolkit does not show a risk index requiring sprinklers, which is strange when the Minister has made it absolutely clear that it does. All 10 boroughs have no policy to fit sprinklers in refurbished schools. Instead, they go for other cost-effective provisions such as CCTV, which means that someone can stand and watch their school burning down. That does not seem sensible when the Government have given authorities millions of pounds to refurbish and rebuild schools.

All 10 boroughs in Greater Manchester—Salford, Manchester, Bolton, Trafford, Stockport, Tameside, Bury, Wigan, Oldham and Rochdale—participated in the survey about sprinklers. Manchester said that its primary schools had sprinklers but not its BSF schools. Bolton and Trafford said that they had no policy, although I understand that today they are telling the press that they do. Salford has a policy to look at the toolkits, but it is not clear whether the policy should be applied to primary or secondary schools or both. Stockport will use a toolkit for BSF schools—secondary schools—but not in any non-BSF schools, so some schools will get sprinklers and some will not. Tameside said yes, there will be sprinklers in all circumstances. Bury expects sprinklers to be installed in all BSF schools, but not in refurbished schools.

In my authority, aqua mist sprinklers will be installed in all new schools. As I understand it, the Department is not happy about aqua mist programmes because the system has not been tested for widespread use in schools. Therefore, such installation does not make sense. In my constituency, a new multi-million pound school is to be fitted with this second-class arrangement, and it is not acceptable. These systems should not be put in schools until they have been nationally tested and are seen to be effective in areas as large as a school and its associated structures.

Oldham said that sprinklers are to be fitted in all new schools, and in Rochdale, they will be fitted in BSF and all other new schools.

My right hon. Friend can see that, despite what the Government are saying, even in an area that is well respected for its educational attainment across the board, irrespective of which party is in control, and which has 10 boroughs that have all got a reasonably good—or indeed excellent—reputation in school attainment, there is still a wide diversity in what they will install in refurbished and new build schools. The building programme is massive, and I know that my right hon. Friend will tell us about it. I will not steal his thunder and give out all the figures; suffice to say it is a multi-billion pound programme. Within such a context, the cost of installing sprinklers is miniscule. It is not even 1 per cent. of the programme.

If we are not careful, we will have a situation in which 1,500 schools a year will be subject to a fire, and some of them will be completely destroyed. In just five years’ time, when the programme is in full swing, my right hon. Friend will be rebuilding new schools that have been burned down before the cycle has been completed. The NUT reckons that over the next decade, it will cost £1 billion from the new BSF programme to replace and rebuild schools that have burned down. Some of those schools will be new ones. In fact, they will practically all be new schools or refurbished schools. It is not common sense to spend £1 billion to go back and rebuild schools that have just been built.

A school in my constituency was burned down 20 years ago and has been rebuilt without a sprinkler system. As part of the new phase of BSF, it will be rebuilt again, but it will not have a sprinkler system. It has had other fires since the one that totally burned it down. I ask my right hon. Friend to meet the Local Government Association, education authorities and the rest of industry to consider this issue as a matter of urgency.

British insurance industry evidence is unchallengeable. All the myths about water damage and vandalism arising from the installation of sprinklers—I heard one recently in my borough—have been totally debunked by the figures. Sprinklers detect, extinguish and control fires, raise effective alarms and save schools 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is absolutely no reason why the current carnage should be allowed to continue.

I offer my right hon. Friend the experience of this House in 1988 and 1992. I wish to pay credit to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), formerly the Member for Bury, North, and the former Conservative Member for York, Conal Gregory. We were called the three amigos. We campaigned for the banning of dangerous foam furniture and linked it to the introduction of new building regulations to force the building industry to ensure the introduction of smoke alarms in all new build and refurbished properties.

The decision in 1988 to ban dangerous foam furniture and to amend the building regulations resulted in millions of houses in England and Wales being totally protected. I gave the dramatic figures of lives saved and injuries prevented. From that experience, we know that simply asking people to do the right thing does not work. In the BSF programme, local authorities are not only being asked to do the right thing; the Minister has virtually given an instruction. However, it is not happening. We have already built hundreds of millions of pounds’-worth of new schools in the programme, and perhaps only one or two have been fitted with a sprinkler system.

I urge my right hon. Friend to find a way to regulate so that no local authority is able to sign a contract unless it precisely and clearly includes an instruction that sprinkler systems be fitted in all refurbished and new build schools, including primary schools and colleges. Such a measure would not only save our investment for the future; it would save injuries and, although this has not yet happened, it could, I hope, save lives if there was an arson attack in school hours. People go to school expecting to come home again.

I hope that I have made a clear, precise and effective case and I thank hon. Members on all sides of the House who have come to participate and see whether we can get a policy whereby schools will from now on be built with sprinkler systems.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) on obtaining this debate. I am glad to see the Minister in his place. He was a member of the all-party fire safety group and a promoter of sprinkler systems, and he knows that sprinklers are an important aspect of the package that is needed to give protection to schools and other buildings.

There has been a marked improvement in fire safety in recent years, which is basically due to the great measures and proactive work of the fire and rescue service. This is an opportunity to tell the fire and rescue services that we are pleased with, and thank them for, their work in protecting schools and communities more generally.

It is interesting to put fires in schools in the context of the general cost of fires to society. The latest statistics from the World Fire Statistics Centre for 2008 show that the cost of fires in the UK is £7.03 billion a year, which is almost 1 per cent. of gross domestic product. Clearly, the costs are great, and some 28 per cent. of them are incurred because of domestic fires—there were 55,000 domestic fires in 2007-08. The statistics indicate that there were 1,300 fires in schools. I looked on the internet last night, but the costs are not entirely up to date. My right hon. Friend has referred to the figure of £1 billion, which is enormous, but the figure that I found is subject to a lag.

I am grateful for that correction.

The net suggested that between 2000 and 2004, the cost of fires was £58 million per year on average. Again, that is an enormous cost compared with the programme that the Government are pushing through in building new schools. In my constituency, we are building a raft of primary schools and new learning centres at secondary level. We built our first school after the Labour Government came to power in 1997—it was built at Mapplewell in that first year. As the school building progressed, someone phoned me to ask whether I realised that the new school, which was the first to be built in Barnsley for 25 years, was being built without any plan for a sprinkler system. I telephoned the chief executive and reached an understanding that we would press for sprinklers. As a result of his pressing, sprinkler systems were fitted to the school.

As my right hon. Friend has said, when a school burns down, there is a much wider effect than disruption to the school, although that is in itself substantial, because it means, for example, that some children have to travel many miles to another school to continue their studies. Because schools are used by the community much more than previously, fires in schools cause bewilderment and vulnerability in the community, which can undermine determination. It is therefore important to ensure that we use every means to protect schools and that we ensure that any fires in schools do not spread.

Of course, as the Minister is aware, one way of doing that is by using sprinklers in vulnerable points in schools. However, we cannot use sprinklers alone—they must be part of a package that includes fire doors, warning systems and so on. Within that combination, sprinkler systems can save schools, because they can prevent fire from spreading. Ensuring that fires cannot spread quickly is the main point of sprinkler systems.

I was pleased when the Minister announced—in March 2007, I think—that he expected all new schools to be fitted with sprinkler systems. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield has said, there is now a necessity to firm that up and for some reinforcement, which the Minister could obtain by meeting, and getting an understanding from, the LGA. That understanding could then be fed down the line to local authorities, so that we can get the support that is required to ensure that all new schools have sprinklers. However, we would then have to deal with older and refurbished schools.

My hon. Friend will have heard my earlier intervention. Surely local authorities’ role must be preventive. As important as the exhortation from the Government is, local government has an obligation to ensure that it is putting sprinkler systems in. Rather than passing the buck and saying, “It is up to central Government to legislate or regulate,” it is surely up to local government to take responsibility.

I accept my hon. Friend’s point but, as he knows, local government will often try to reduce the cost of a building, even to the point of making it less safe. That is why the Minister needs to consider how he might firm up and reinforce the point to ensure that local authorities follow that duty, as instructed by his Department.

Since 1997, the proactive work of the fire and rescue services has driven down the likelihood of fires. That work involves reaching out through technology, education, information and publicity. The need for sprinklers is an issue on the technology level, but it is important that education and information are also passed down to communities, so that they are aware and can help to build and reinforce the underpinning for schemes, such as those referred to by several hon. Members, where young people are brought in to work with the fire service. There is a similar scheme in Penistone involving young people aged about 15. They see how the fire service works in training and applies its measures when it goes out to a fire.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield has referred to smoke alarms. A surprising announcement was made not too long ago that 80 per cent. of domestic dwellings are now fitted with smoke alarms, which shows how much the fire and rescue services’ proactive work has done to protect our communities. We need a similarly robust approach to ensure that resilience is built into schools. Sprinklers build in that resilience. If there is a fire, it is quickly brought under control and the school is easily put back into service. Without that resilience, the break in the children’s education programme and the social consequences for the community can be devastating. Sprinklers are a must. I urge the Minister to add to the great work that he has done to ensure that local authorities have a duty to equip new schools with sprinklers and that, where possible, schools being refurbished are also fitted with sprinklers.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) for securing this debate on the vital issue of fire safety in our schools. During the past four years, I have supported and worked with the National Fire Sprinkler Network’s campaign to make the installation of fire sprinklers standard in newly built schools. I was alerted to the problem by Bernadette Hartley, who has, sadly, died. She was a great and passionate advocate for sprinkler systems in schools. She worked tirelessly on the project with many fire chiefs throughout the country, and particularly with Peter Holland of the Lancashire fire service. In recent years, their hard work, persistence and commitment to fire safety have delivered progress, and I congratulate them and the Government on that.

Working with Bernadette was quite exciting at times. At one point, we met the TV presenter Nick Ross, who wanted to put an MP from each party—one Liberal, one Labour and one Tory—into a trial fire building by agreement, leave us in there and then rescue us, so that we would realise the impact on the lives of people who could end up in a fire with no prospect of rescue. It never happened, but it often makes me think what will happen to people if we do not do all that we can, not only in terms of buildings—the cost is huge—but in terms of the social and human impact that a fire has.

It has been a long-fought campaign for better safety on school premises, and there is clearly some way to go yet. I welcome wholeheartedly the move by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to encourage the installation of sprinkler systems in newly built schools. Including that in Department guidance will significantly reduce the costs and disruption caused by fires in schools. In our discussions with the National Fire Sprinkler Network, manufacturers and fire departments, it has been made clear that the more the guidance is adhered to and the more sprinkler systems are put in schools, public buildings, shops and areas where the public are at risk, the more innovation there will be and the more the costs will drop. It is important that we get on with it. Safety in our schools is paramount, and the sprinklers add an extra level of security.

Schools play an increasingly important role as community hubs. They are no longer open from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm; there are breakfast clubs and after-school activities. They offer a place where the local community can come together. In some places, the local school might be the only decently functioning community facility. We must protect those resources as best we can, as well as the health and safety of the people who use them.

Lancashire county council, as the local education authority, includes sprinkler systems in all new schools built under the Building Schools for the Future programme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield has said, some 2,000 schools are damaged by fire each year. The BSF programme will invest £25 billion in renewing schools. We should not do anything that might put that investment at risk. We should protect it, and sprinkler systems are a logical next step, especially as we are investing such huge sums.

Installing sprinkler systems makes a great deal of financial sense. The cost of a sprinkler system is 1 to 2 per cent. of the total project cost for a new build. If incorporated at the design stage, it can become cost-neutral, so why not just do it? There are additional benefits. For example, Zurich will reduce a school’s insurance premium by 65 per cent. and the excess, which is often about £100,000, to nil. That is an immediate benefit of putting sprinkler systems in schools. It is even more sensible to do so at the design stage.

I want to place on record my support for the work of the National Fire Sprinkler Network and everybody associated with the health and safety of all the people involved in protecting those who use public buildings. I hope that the Department for Children, Schools and Families, being committed to the installation of fire sprinklers in schools, will push on as hard and as quickly as possible.

I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) on the birth of his 10th grandchild, which is possibly the most important event for him today. I also congratulate him on securing this important debate and on his achievements in improving fire safety over the years, which have affected so many people.

As we are discussing schools specifically, it is useful to reflect on the scale of the problem. In a recent parliamentary question, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) established that more than 4,000 fires were attended by local fire and rescue services between 2004 and 2007. The House of Commons Library briefing contains some incredible statistics. For example, 90,000 children are affected by arson each year; an average of 20 schools are damaged or destroyed by arson each week; 12 is the average age of fire vandals; only 400 of 32,000 schools in the UK are fitted with sprinklers; the cost of arson to schools was £70 million in 2008 alone. As the right hon. Member for Makerfield has pointed out, the opportunity costs are considerable in terms of how many brand-new schools, extra teachers and so on we could benefit from, if we were to reduce the number of fires.

Every year, about 2,700 school fires are started deliberately. Sadly, schools are prime targets for arson attacks because the perpetrators are often past or present pupils.

The hon. Lady is making a lot of sense. Does she believe that better and well-targeted education for youngsters would help to protect not just schools, which have a major arson problem, but heathland? The hon. Lady and the Minister know all about that subject.

The hon. Gentleman has correctly surmised that I will mention heathland. He may have seen in the local papers for my constituency that there have been some major heath fires over the past couple of weeks. It would be surprising if I did not mention that.

Levels of fire protection and detection have traditionally been very low in schools. As hon. Members have said, the financial cost is not the only problem brought by a school fire. The Arson Prevention Bureau estimates that almost a third of school fires occur during the day, putting the safety of pupils and staff at risk. Furthermore, fires disrupt the learning of more than 90,000 pupils a year through damage to classrooms and school property. That can include coursework, school work and teaching notes and aids. The disruption caused by damage can range from one classroom being out of action for a few weeks to a whole school being taught in temporary accommodation for several years.

This debate could not have come at a more pertinent time for me. Tomorrow, I will attend the opening of the new buildings at Lytchett Minster upper school, an excellent comprehensive in my constituency that was devastated by an arson attack in 2000. Tomorrow it will formally open its new maths, science and humanities centre after nine years and £12.5 million of rebuilding work.

I cannot describe the disruption and stress that has been caused. I well recall attending a local carnival on the Saturday afternoon when news of the fire came. Immediately, devastation was caused for local people, the head teacher, staff and pupils. Because of the scale of the fire, about 35 portakabins were required. The country had to be scoured just to get the school up and running again. Over the eight to nine years of the rebuild, a generation of schoolchildren has gone through the system receiving maths and science education in portable classrooms. The portakabins were 400 m from the rest of the school buildings, resulting in less time being spent in lessons and problems during inclement weather.

The new build cost an incredible amount. The owners of the land on which the portakabins were housed had to be paid. The insurance money granted in 2000 was nowhere near the amount needed. A rebuild after a major fire is not planned, so it is more difficult. There were enormous delays, some of which were inexcusable. For example, an infamous tree in a place vital to the rebuild was judged to be of such great value that it could not be taken down. Ironically, the fire hazards over the eight years were incredible. Science lessons were being held in portakabins that were accessed by a narrow path.

It is generally accepted that standards will suffer when children are taught in temporary accommodation. It becomes much more difficult to engage children in education. Many items of coursework were destroyed in the fire. Such things are not quantifiable. I would like to emphasise that Lytchett Minster upper school maintained its incredibly high standards. Prior to the opening tomorrow, I would like to place on the record my congratulations to the head teacher, staff, pupils and local community. As other hon. Members have said, the impact is greater when schools have opened themselves up to the community.

When we consider safety in schools, we must look at three aspects. Many preventive measures can be taken. The design of schools, in particular of corridors and ways of escape, is incredibly important, as has been said. Smoke alarms have also been mentioned. Other basic things can be done, such as banning matches and lighters in schools. Waste should be kept in a sensible storage place. Fires, however small, should always be reported to the fire brigade. As has been said, all fire starters should be referred to fire service aversion schemes. I will come back to that in a moment. We must ensure that school perimeters and buildings are well maintained and secure. We must be aware that the broken window syndrome attracts vandalism, as the Library briefing paper states.

Education on this issue is important. The average age of school arsonists is 12 and such crimes are usually opportunistic. Dorset fire and safety runs an effective arson prevention unit, which aims to educate schoolchildren about the devastating consequences of arson. Fire and rescue services must not be forced to cut their budgets for important preventive measures. In Dorset, roadshows and the time that fire services spend in schools are under threat. As the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) reminded me, education about fire and heathland is also vital in constituencies such as mine, which have so much heathland.

There is a wonderful safety centre in Dorset called Streetwise, which has been running for more than 10 years. About 115,000 people have visited the centre since its opening. Children act out all sorts of scenarios, identify dangers such as fire risks, and say what should be done. As a charity, it is reliant on the generosity and time of local partnerships and businesses. It is essential that funding for such vital services is not cut during the economic downturn. Dorset fire and rescue service has had to cut its contribution to that important facility. Dorset also has a Firesetters programme, which seeks to educate young people who are referred to it by concerned parents and youth offending teams. It aims to teach a greater awareness of the consequences of fire. Intervention and education are important and we cannot afford for there to be cuts.

Beyond intervention and education, we should think about the design of schools and the inclusion of sprinkler systems. I agree that we must fight fire on all fronts. Sprinklers are a vital ingredient in that. I was pleased in 2007 when the Department for Education and Skills published guidance saying that all new-build schools should have sprinkler systems fitted as standard unless it could be demonstrated that a school was low risk enough and that the system would not be good enough value for money. In principle, I agree that the decision-making process should be local, but I am concerned to hear that the cost is judged to be prohibitive in many schools. Many schools affected by the funding problems of the Building Schools for the Future programme might decide to cut this expense.

The Minister will be aware that there have been some overspends on Building Schools for the Future in Dorset, which have made the cost rocket up. To one set of people in Dorset, that is the Government’s fault—this appears on much election literature at the moment—but to another set of people, it is because contracts are not being managed well enough at a local level. It is probably fairly clear which camp I am in, but the point is that if there is poor contract management at local authority level, costs escalate and there has to be scrimping and saving. That point is important.

The Minister has said that fire safety must be central to the design of new school buildings. He has also said:

“I expect new schools to be built to include sprinkler systems as a safeguard against school fires. The installation of sprinklers can extinguish fires quickly and reduce damage to buildings.”

Dorset fire and rescue service has compared the cost of providing carpets throughout a school with that of installing sprinklers; we might ask which is more important in this day and age.

I have some questions for the Minister. What does the guidance that all new schools should have sprinklers mean in practice? Dorset county council has said that it will fit sprinklers in certain new schools, but opposition councillors have not managed to get any clear answers about that. I believe that the council has ruled out fitting sprinklers to existing buildings. Is that what the Minister wants? What about part-rebuilds? Sprinklers have not been installed in the new-build part of Lytchett Minster upper school, although it cost a lot of money. It is difficult to know how many new schools are being fitted with sprinklers, and I appreciate that there will be a time lag, as the statement was only made in 2007, but does the Minister feel that any progress is being made? I am against having a centralised system, but I am worried that we do not have a grip on this issue across all local authorities—I imagine that some will be much better than others right across the board.

Cost should not be a prohibitive factor in the decision-making process regarding fire safety, but this all comes down to cost-benefit analysis. Everyone who has spoken today has mentioned costs, including monetary, social and educational costs. It is obvious that there will be huge benefits to installing sprinklers in schools, including monetary benefits. The Zurich briefing points out that reductions in insurance costs mean that there is a relatively short payback period for the cost of installing sprinklers. Can the Government look at payback periods and cost-benefit analyses, obviously without favouring any particular insurance company, in the widest possible sense? This has been an important debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), whom we have just learned was one of the “Three Amigos”, on securing both the debate and a new granddaughter, Ian.

The Department for Communities and Local Government estimates the average cost of fires in schools at £58 million a year, whereas the Arson Prevention Bureau puts the UK total higher still at about £100 million a year. If one multiplies that figure by 10, one gets the National Union of Teachers’ figure of £1 billion, which the right hon. Gentleman quoted for the decade. It is fortunate that there have not been any fatalities from school fires in the past 10 years, but there have been 290 injuries, and, as he said, it is only a matter of time before tragedy strikes.

Schools that suffer serious fire damage face other problems. Pupils and staff may need to move to neighbouring schools, and teaching may have to be in temporary accommodation for long periods. When I was a fourth-year pupil at Roundhay secondary school in Leeds, a neighbouring school had to be closed to repair concrete cancer in the ceiling, and we had to share our school with that school’s pupils, each having a morning or afternoon shift. Although I had my afternoons free as a child, that sharing arrangement was very disruptive to all involved.

On top of the practical difficulties, schools’ educational resources can suffer drastically when a school burns down, as data on pupil performance, teaching materials and lesson plans may be lost. Senior staff at St. Felix school in Newmarket told The Times Educational Supplement that they felt like newly qualified teachers again, when their school burned down, having lost all the material that they had accumulated over a lifetime in the teaching profession.

The DCLG has provided figures showing that there are consistently more than 1,000 fires a year in schools in England. The TeacherNet website says that, each year, more than 1,300 UK schools suffer fires that are serious and dangerous enough to warrant calling out the local fire brigade. The figures are made all the more alarming by the fact that a high proportion of those fires—often the majority—were started deliberately. In 2006, 589 out of 1,075 recorded fires—55 per cent.—were started on purpose. In the DCSF press notice that accompanied new safety guidance in 2007, the Minister said that

“60 per cent. of fires are started deliberately.”

A second disquieting statistic about school fires is the average age of the arsonists. In March 2009, The Times Educational Supplement pointed out that the average age of “fire vandals”, as it correctly called them, is just 12. That echoes the view of fire brigades up and down the country that run arson prevention programmes, such as those that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) mentioned. In April this year, The Birmingham Post carried an article on the fire prevention work of the west midlands arson task force, whose work, focusing on 10 and 11-year-olds, had brought about a sharp dip in the number of school fires in that area. In May, the Hull Daily Mail reported that Humberside fire and rescue service had targeted its Fire Friends programme at children aged between five and 11. I was interested in the Nick Ross idea, which the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) mentioned, of putting three MPs—one from each party—into a controlled fire. That sounds like an interesting experiment, but I am not sure how advisable it would be in today’s climate.

There is no doubt that schools can take sensible measures to protect themselves against the threat of arson. They can co-operate with fire programmes, such as those that I have mentioned, and invest in good security, such as perimeter fencing. They can also make special arrangements for the school holidays, when few staff will normally be at the school site. However, all those precautions address the symptoms rather than the causes of the problem. Given that many fires are caused by schoolchildren, this issue is, to some extent at least, about behaviour. The children who start fires are likely to be those who struggle at school, particularly with basic skills. They are likely to be disruptive in lessons and to cause other problems around the school. The Times Educational Supplement has pointed out that arsonists will invariably have a “history of troublemaking”, and that

“nine times out of 10 they will be known to the police or other related agencies.”

Deliberate school fires do not arise out of the blue. They are not random or isolated occurrences, but one more troubling consequence of the breakdown in behaviour that is all too common in too many of our schools today, even at primary school level. We have argued on many occasions that teachers do not have the powers that they need to keep order in schools and to underline their authority. They are hampered in setting detentions, in searching pupils and in permanently excluding persistently disruptive students. Often, they do not have the autonomy that they need to create the type of whole-school ethos that can shape the behaviour of pupils for the good by setting and enforcing high standards and expectations. We know that standards of pupil behaviour are an absolute priority for the public, but, as the evidence for arson in schools shows, the Government are still struggling with this issue. We recognise, however, that not all fires are started deliberately, and that this problem can only be reduced, rather than solved, by concentrating on behaviour. There are other issues to consider, such as building regulations and, in particular, sprinklers, as the right hon. Gentleman has said.

The DCSF responded to a series of parliamentary questions by explaining that it does not hold data on the number of existing schools that are fitted with sprinkler systems, and that it will be able to provide data only on fittings in newly constructed schools from the current financial year onwards. It seems likely, however, that the vast majority of existing schools do not have sprinkler systems, as our own anecdotal experience tells us. Zurich Municipal puts the proportion at just 1 per cent. of schools.

The Government sought to change the situation in 2007, and I congratulate the Minister on implementing new building bulletin 100, which was designed to deal with fire safety in schools. That document summed up the fire safety precautions that schools were required to take, and it included guidance on many issues, such as evacuation and alarm systems. The document’s key recommendation concerned sprinklers. It introduced a new expectation that all newly built schools should include sprinklers, unless they were classified as particularly low risk. When winding up the debate, it would be helpful if the Minister were to define “low risk”.

A written answer from the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), stated:

“It is our presumption that all new schools will have fire sprinklers installed but we do not intend to require this.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2008; Vol. 480, c. 1144W.]

The Minister himself said in a parliamentary answer that

“it is our expectation that all new and some refurbished schools designed after the introduction of our new policy in February 2007 will have fire sprinklers installed, although this is not a compulsory measure. There may be cases where local authorities or other promoters of schools consider that sprinklers are not needed. If so, they will need to be able to demonstrate that such schools are very low risk and that sprinklers would not represent good value for money.”—[Official Report, 31 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 700W.]

When the new guidance was introduced, the Minister said:

“I expect new schools to be built to include sprinkler systems as a safeguard against school fires. The installation of sprinklers can extinguish tires quickly and reduce damage to buildings.”

Clearly, sprinklers are important and are cheaper to install as part of a new build school than as an addition to an existing building—particularly because large water storage tanks need to be constructed as sprinklers are not just connected to the water mains.

When sprinklers are built into a newly constructed school, they typically cost between £250,000 and £300,000, which the contractor, Willmott Dixon, has said can

“cause problems in meeting client's budgets”.

Sprinklers are not a statutory requirement, so funding is not always available. Yet, the Government have set a strong expectation that almost all new schools will be fitted with sprinklers, and the risk assessment tools that the DCSF provides reflect that assumption. Very few schools that take the test will be classified as low risk and therefore, after the application of the risk assessment tools, contractors often face the problem of having to incorporate a sprinkler system.

In addition, the school or local authority face the problem of finding additional funding to install a sprinkler system. The time taken for those deliberations can be costly. According to the engineering firm Buro Happold the

“application of the tools can result in a design impasse”,

which in turn

“results in increased project costs and delays while the need for sprinklers is debated”.

Will the Minister confirm whether, in practice, it is all but compulsory to have sprinklers in new build schools and whether that cost is incorporated into the Building Schools for the Future and primary capital programme budgets?

As the hon. Member for West Lancashire has mentioned, it is important to note that insurance premiums are significantly lower for schools that have sprinklers. Zurich Municipal, for example, has suggested that sprinkler systems in schools reduce insurance premiums by around 75 per cent. According to the House of Commons Library, that could result in a payback period of between 13 and 21 years for a typical secondary school. Considering that a school is supposed to last more than 21 years under BSF, that seems like a good economy.

This has been an important debate about safety in schools. We all share the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Makerfield—this is certainly not a party political issue. We have been fortunate that no recent fatalities have resulted from fires in schools. However, 290 casualties during the past 10 years is clearly 290 too many. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Many of us come into politics hoping to impact on people’s lives in a positive way. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) for his achievements in the field of fire safety. His hard work and commitment in relation to the legislation surrounding dangerous inflammable foam furniture and the installation of smoke detectors in homes have helped to save many lives. His achievements in public life are many, but I am sure that he is particularly proud of those.

I join others in congratulating my right hon. Friend on becoming a grandfather for an unbelievable 10th time. It is worthy of great congratulations for someone who is clearly so youthful in demeanour to become a grandfather on the 10th occasion. I also congratulate him on his speech. I could easily have delivered such a speech myself in this Chamber in the last Parliament—but it would perhaps have been without the same passion and professionalism that he obviously applies. I congratulate him on securing what I and others consider a hugely important debate on a significant issue. The nature of the debate has shown this Parliament at its best—as being well-informed and passionate, and caring about something that really makes a difference to people. That is worthy of note, given the current climate in relation to the nature of this Parliament.

We heard not only my right hon. Friend’s passionate and strong argument, but the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), who I enjoyed serving with as an officer of the all–party group on fire safety and rescue. He raises these and other health and safety issues, such as asbestos in schools, with me regularly. He pursues those matters with great passion. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) has to some extent taken over the baton that I had to abandon when I took up ministerial office: advocating in the House on behalf of the National Fire Sprinkler Network. I join her in paying tribute to Bernadette Hartley, who was instrumental in getting me interested in what some describe as the slightly weird and arcane subject of fire safety and sprinklers. When she died recently, it was a great loss.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who talked about Lytchett Minster upper school in her constituency. I have visited that school in a ministerial capacity to see what could be done to unlock the unacceptable time delay in rebuilding the school, following the devastating fire there. I am happy to hear that it is opening tomorrow and hope that the encouragement I was able to instigate through the Department was in some small way a contributory factor to getting on with things. From my visit, I well recall the huge impact that the fire had on the people in that school community—the teachers and pupils. I particularly remember what could almost be described as the shanty town of mobile classrooms that were reached by going down a long muddy path on the far side of the lawn. I look forward to visiting the school again in due course to see the impact of the new investment that has taken place there. I will try to address the hon. Lady’s questions later.

With his characteristic style, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) contributed in a well informed way. I was interested to hear about the disruption to his education during what we describe in modern parlance as year 10—the fourth form, as it probably was then. Just imagine how much better he would be—even better than he is now—if he had not had that disruption to his education.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield will know that—I have hinted at this—I am passionate about the subject. I have advanced it through my patronage of the National Fire Sprinkler Network, as treasurer of the all-party group on fire safety and rescue, as a director of the Fire Protection Association and as chair of the Fire Safety Council. I first got involved with the issue because I was persuaded that, certainly at that time, no one in this country had died in a fire in a building that had a properly maintained sprinkler system, and that fire deaths occur disproportionately among people who suffer disadvantage.

Beyond all the technicalities of passive and active measures, tanking systems and water pressure, this issue is about social justice. This is not just about people’s safety; the matter is vital to our schools. Contributions from all hon. Members, including those who have intervened—the hon. Members for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose)—have demonstrated the effect of the issue on the education of children and their work. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, there is also an effect on teachers’ work and careers. That was behind my motivation when I was appointed Schools Minister to do something about the situation.

The initial advice that I received was that the installation of sprinklers would add 10 per cent. to the build cost. Through dialogue and bringing in experts from outside, we managed to achieve a happy consensus that the figure could be as low as 2 per cent. or less, so there was the ability to move forward; hence the announcements that we made in 2007 around a presumption.

There has been some discussion about the statistics, with which I do not disagree. It is worth pointing out—I am pleased to report this—that in the past three or four years there has been some reduction in the number of arson cases and fires overall in schools, and, consequently, in the costs. In 2003, there were just over 1,300 fires, in 2004 there were just under 1,300 fires, and in 2005 there were just under 1,200 fires. The percentage of arson cases went down by 60, 56 and 45 per cent. respectively. In 2006, by far the largest number of fires fell into the £1 to £500 cost band—I assume that that is the property cost—but six fires resulted in more than £1 million of damage. It is clear that we must not ignore the issue, and that I and other Members of this House must continue to focus on it.

As right hon. and hon. Members have said, fires in schools inflict considerable damage both in the risk that they pose to staff and pupils and in terms of cost. In March 2007, as I said, my Department introduced a new policy on fire sprinklers in schools. We announced our expectation that almost all new schools and some refurbished schools should have sprinklers fitted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield was right to say that that is not a compulsory measure. The decision to install sprinklers is one for local authorities, but with the presumption that I have articulated and which is articulated in guidance.

In terms of how the decision making works, I would like to read out part of a letter that I sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who slipped me a note saying that unfortunately he had to get away to attend a meeting with another Minister about an important matter in his constituency. In that letter, I stated:

“The current version of the risk analysis tool is more heavily weighted than the original version and the vast majority of schools will now be assessed as ‘average’ or ‘high’ risk using it.”

That refers to the new tool that we introduced in 2007 to assist local authorities in measuring their requirement for sprinklers. The letter goes on:

“In the earlier version of the risk analysis tool, we asked for sprinklers in ‘average’ risk schools to be considered using the Cost Benefit Analysis Tool which accompanies the Risk Analysis Tool…whereas in the latest version of the tool we now recommend that ‘average’ risk schools are fitted with sprinklers notwithstanding the results of any cost benefit analysis.

The difference between the earlier and the current version of the DCSF risk analysis tool is largely due to the increased weight given to the loss of community facilities”—

to which many hon. Members referred—

“and pupil’s coursework which it was felt could not be adequately reflected in cost terms.”

Those are important areas of progress. I went on to state:

“The DCSF position is now that sprinklers should always be installed in all new schools except the very few schools if any that are assessed to be of ‘low’ risk and for which there is also no whole-life cost benefit.”

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton asked how we define low risk. It is a simple question with a complicated answer. I would have to refer him to building bulletin 100, which he referred to and which I am sure he has assiduously read. On page 25, there is a formula for measuring risk assessment. Risk is the summation of hazards or scenarios multiplied by the frequency and the consequence of those scenarios. There is further explanation in appendix H, but it is all quite complicated. In essence, if there is a history of arson or fire in a building, that obviously raises the risk. I am confident that, if the tools are used, they will indicate that fire sprinklers should be installed in the vast majority of cases.

The Minister is making a characteristically thoughtful response to this debate, for which I thank him. Does the cost-benefit tool that he just described include any savings on insurance over the years if sprinklers were fitted, and has he had any input from the Association of British Insurers on what the cost saving might be?

As we put the tool together, we had contact with the ABI but principally with Zurich, which has been frequently mentioned in this debate. I understand that it is a dominant insurer in the schools insurance market—there are few, if any, other insurers in this market, which is why it is a useful source of information and advice. I do not disagree with the statistics that others have used about the kind of savings that could be made. They certainly have been included in the cost-benefit tool that is used by local authorities.

Alongside requiring the use of the tool, we have significantly tightened up requirements for the installation of sprinklers in new academies and in all new projects built under the new contractors’ framework. Sprinklers will be installed unless the local authority specifically requests that they are not. Local authorities can also use funding outside the Building Schools for the Future envelope to install fire sprinklers and other fire safety measures.

In private finance initiative projects, lower insurance premiums mean that sprinklers pay for themselves in 10 to 12 years. Most PFI providers automatically install sprinklers to get reduced insurance premiums—they are more concerned about whole-life cost—thereby providing good value whatever the risk.

We have also published on TeacherNet design guidance for the primary capital programme which sets out our expectation that primary facilities should provide a safe and healthy environment. It recommends the use of our fire safety and sprinkler guidance.

We have made good progress, but it is fair to say that because of the lead-in times around designing and building schools, and with the new guidance only being introduced in 2007, it is difficult for us yet to be able to judge what the impact has been. The early indications are that whereas previously less than 10 per cent. of new schools had sprinklers installed, as many as 75 per cent. may now have them. I would like to see the figure higher still, but it is clear that some progress is being made.

Further to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield, I am happy to meet the Local Government Association, Partnerships for Schools and, given its understanding of the market, Zurich. I make a commitment to the House that I will do that in order to refresh my understanding of how thorough implementation of the guidance is across local authorities, and whether there is more that we can do.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that suggestion of a way forward. If he has a chance, could he respond to the allegation that I made in my speech that aquamist systems have not been properly evaluated and are not yet available for putting into schools instead of sprinkler systems? Could he give some indication about that?

I share my right hon. Friend’s frustration that we have not yet had that evaluation from the Building Research Establishment. As I understand it, such systems are used in maritime environments. The relevant authorities for the maritime environment have a good understanding of those systems, which, for those who have not familiarised themselves with the technicalities, emit a fine water mist, as the name suggests, rather than a water spray from a sprinkler head. As long as there is not a large fire draft, that water mist is attracted to the fire and dampens it down.

I understand that Wigan is attracted to the water mist system because there is a problem in terms of being able to provide the pressure needed to run a sprinkler system and because of the associated cost of a tanking system to make the sprinkler system work. I would be cautious about a water mist system, because we do not yet have the analysis from the BRE as to its effectiveness in a school environment. I hope that that analysis can be hurried along.

It is important to say that there are exceptions in respect of the use of sprinkler systems. Ultimately, it is for the local authority to decide whether it installs them, based on its presumption and on building regulations set by the Department for Communities and Local Government. We expect schools to install fire sprinklers—I remain a strong advocate of their use—but there will be exceptions when installing them is judged to be unnecessary and not cost-effective. For example, academies or other schools—I know of one academy in particular—with large, complex atrium spaces can be difficult to protect with fire sprinklers and so might require a different fire engineering solution, which would include a more in-depth risk analysis than the standard risk and cost-benefit analysis tools would produce, providing, ultimately, a solution better tailored to that particular building and balancing more passive and other active measures of fire safety.

In schools deemed to be very low risk, or in minor new build or refurbishment projects, it would not be cost-effective to install sprinklers. For instance, in projects in the late stages of design when the new policy was announced or already under construction it is difficult to have ceilings and walls redesigned to incorporate fire sprinklers. It is important that authorities have clear policy positions in favour of installing sprinklers right from the outset, so that architects and construction companies and those involved in the design understand from the start that sprinklers need to be installed. I am pleased to see that a considerable number of the authorities that we have surveyed so far, which are included in a list that I have been given, are now saying in principle that they would always want sprinklers to be installed in schools.

We must be clear that fire sprinklers are not installed in schools solely for the purpose of saving lives, but are also for saving property. A school building designed in accordance with the building regulations that prioritise life safety will be safe whether or not it includes fire sprinklers. We have heard all the arguments about why we should install them for other reasons. Having completed the test set out in building bulletin 100, my right hon. Friend’s neighbouring local authority in Manchester decided that fire sprinklers would not be the best method of fire protection in its schools.

Local fire and rescue services are actively monitoring which new and refurbished schools are fitted with sprinkler systems. Officials in my Department are in contact with them and with Zurich, which also monitors sprinkler systems and follows up cases where sprinklers are not installed to find out the reason for such a decision and to apply pressure, where necessary. I will have that meeting—I will invite my right hon. Friend to it as well—and we can explore what more we need to do.

So, in conclusion, the decision about exactly which fire safety measures are employed to protect local school buildings is for the local authority to make, based on what would most effectively protect those buildings and what represents the greatest value for money. Every child has the right to learn in safe, secure surroundings. Every local authority must ensure that school buildings—and the work, property and individuals within them—are as safe as they can possibly be.

Sitting suspended.