Revealed: Inconsistencies in how often school fire risk assessments completed

Houghton Community Nursery School last had a full fire risk assessment in May 2007. Photo: ITV News Tyne Tees

An investigation by ITV News Tyne Tees has found inconsistencies in how regularly schools around the region have fire risk assessments.

Our figures, obtained via Freedom of Information requests, show that the most recent new assessments have been completed on average, every:

  • 2 years in Hartlepool
  • 5 years in Gateshead
  • 9 years in Sunderland

Sunderland City Council says its existing assessments are reviewed annually.

There are no national regulations for how often new fire risk assessments have to be undertaken.

North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon, member of a parliamentary group on fire safety, said our figures show the need for regulations to be tightened.

The government responded that, after the Grenfell Tower fire, it has launched a public inquiry and an independent review of fire safety, to identify changes that need to be made to the system.

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Houghton Community Nursery School, in Houghton le Spring, last had a full fire risk assessment in 2007. Senior leaders there insist their existing assessment is thoroughly reviewed each year, and fire safety is above and beyond minimum requirements. A new fire risk assessment is due to be completed at the nursery in January 2018.

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all schools must have a fire risk assessment, done by a 'competent person.' They are documents designed to identify fire risks at a site, check safety measures such as fire alarms and extinguishers, and ensure people are aware of their escape routes in an emergency.

71 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in West London in June. Credit: PA

Many schools ask councils to complete their assessments, or employ private companies to do so. They must be updated if there are any significant changes to a site or its use - but there are is no mandatory time period for how often a new fire risk assessment must be completed.

Several other local authorities in the North East told us they did not know when the last three fire risk assessments had been completed in their schools, as that information was held locally.

Mary Glindon, MP and North Tyneside and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group: "We want the government to make the regulations and the guidance stricter - to make people safer by doing that - so that everybody is quite clear what's required of them in order to make sure that fire safety and fire protection is at the maximum."

Mary Glindon wants new rules on how often schools have full fire risk assessments.

All council-maintained schools in Sunderland have full Fire Risk Assessments which are annually reviewed and revised if there have been any changes to the building or safety procedures.

All Academies will follow similar health and safety protocols, with their own responsibilities for carrying out assessments with accredited, specialist guidance.

The whole Fire Risk Assessment process in Sunderland was itself reviewed in 2015 to make it even more robust, with increased documentation and guidance on codes of practice with additional help, support and information available to schools from our health and safety teams including a 24-hour service.

While there is currently no national, statutory requirements on how often schools need to carry out a full Fire Risk Assessment, all schools in Sunderland will have had one within a five year period by the end of January 2018.

– Sunderland City Council spokesperson
Part of Rift House Primary School in Hartlepool was destroyed in a fire in May.

We are determined that all schools should be safe places. Schools can be evacuated within a matter of minutes in the event of a fire and conduct regular fire drills.

Every school must have a Fire Risk Assessment and schools should keep their assessment under review to make sure it is up to date and that the precautions are still working effectively.

The government is determined to learn the lessons of the tragic Grenfell fire. That is why we have launched a Public Inquiry and an independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The government will work with Dame Judith Hackitt and other partners during the next phase of the independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety to identify the changes that need to be made to the system.

– Department for Education spokesperson