Consultant calls for sprinkler systems to come as standard in new-build schools, as yearly arson bill rises to £70m

Consultant EC Harris has called on the government to make sprinkler systems mandatory in all new-build schools after it emerged that arson attacks cost £70m a year.

The firm is calling on the Treasury to adjust the budget for the £2.2bn-a-year Building Schools for the Future programme to allow all schools to protect themselves against the threat.

Two thousand schools were hit last year by fires that were caused deliberately.

Experts warn that failure to protect against fires could mean that many will be deemed uninsurable.

EC Harris director Paul Foster said that BSF contracts ought to include fire defence systems as standard to protect against arson attacks. He said: “If we are not careful BSF could be seen as a missed opportunity to reduce the risk of fire for all our children and reduce the cost to the local education authorities of insuring schools.”

He added that some private investors in local education partnerships could install sprinklers themselves but many might not.

Foster said: “We could be in the awkward position of some schools being insured while others are not. For those of us who work in the education sector this is not an acceptable situation.”

BSF could be seen as a missed opportunity to reduce fire risk

Paul Foster, EC Harris

Meanwhile, the Department for Education and Skills is set to reorganise the way architects are procured for city academies, as part of the continuing review by junior minister Lord Andrew Adonis.

The current framework deal will be made more flexible, with individual investors who sponsor academies setting up framework agreements with their own design teams.

The DfES currently has a preselected list of 34 practices or consortiums from which sponsors choose a shortlist and then interview to select a designer.

The original agreement in May 2002 was supposed to run until 2007, but revisions have been brought forward because of changes in the way the city academy programme is run.

Richard Hazle, a partner at the smallest practice on the framework agreement, Hazle McCormack Young, said: “It’s a good idea. The DfES tendered for the original framework deal so long ago, it seems sensible.”