KIDS and teachers are facing “life-threatening fire hazards” in our schools, firefighters and teachers warned yesterday.
Education unions issued a rallying cry for all schools to be fitted with sprinkler systems when they are built or refurbished.
On the second day of TUC Congress, a resolution calling for an “urgent audit” of schools to “determine the existence of cladding similar to the type used at Grenfell Tower” was unanimously endorsed.
Delegates’ warnings came after Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack recalled how the cladding used on the London tower block had sent it up in flames in June “like a roman candle.”
Describing children as “our most valued assets,” teaching union NASUWT delegate Russ Walters said it was “the right of every citizen in this country” to expect that their kids be properly looked after.”
But he warned: “Sadly, in the case of buildings, this expectation is far, far from the reality. Throughout this country we have evidence of schools in states of disrepair.”
FBU delegate Tam McFarlane told the hall: “Teachers, education workers and fi refi ghters have all been exposed to fi re hazards in schools.
“Most of all, [fire hazards] are life-threatening. This is a real issue, a real risk in our communities. Protect the children who attend these schools.”
The motion endorsed by delegates also called for an audit of asbestos in school buildings.
Speaking ahead of the debate, National Education Union leader Kevin Courtney said: “In the aftermath of the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower, attention has rightly focused on others who could be at risk, including children and school staff.
“All new and refurbished schools should be fitted with sprinkler systems and a review of cladding on all schools needs to take place. Such a review should also focus on identification of asbestos.”
Mr Courtney said this should “lead, in the longer term, to a programme of phased removal.”
Association of School & College Leaders chief Geoff Barton said that heads “need expert support in identifying and addressing the risks associated with issues like cladding and asbestos.”
He said: “We are urging the government to carry out a comprehensive survey of the whole school estate so that it can identify where any risks exist and then to take action to deal with those risks.
“Parents must be reassured that schools are as safe as we can possibly make them.”
A public inquiry into the fire has been established, but it has been criticised for having too narrow terms of reference.
The official death toll of about 80 has been criticised as being “far, far too low” by Labour MP David Lammy.
TUC delegates resolved to “build a major campaign” to ensure the Grenfell inquiry “addresses the concerns of residents, survivors and those workers who responded to the fire.” The campaign will also attack cuts, housing sell-offs and the cull of safety regulations, arguing that public safety has suffered as a result of government policies.
And Unite delegate Jim Kelly argued: “Privatisation and deregulation is scarring our housing market.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady led a rousing tribute to emergency service workers who responded to Grenfell and other recent high-profile emergencies.
Dave Waterman, a firefighter who attended the aftermath of the fire, told Congress he had witnessed “the complete incineration of anything flammable, and the terrible human cost.”
He said: “It was a complete miracle that all of my comrades survived that day.”