Cllr Evonne Williams responds to the Derby schools devastated by fires

Published: 5 October 2020

Clock outside Council House

Derby schools devastated by fires

Leadership column, Cllr Evonne Williams, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People

UPDATED – 6th October 2020

We now understand from the joint police and fire investigation, that the fire at Ravensdale Infant School was deliberate.

Such an attack on our children’s education is abhorrent. Whoever did this should be utterly ashamed, and I have every confidence that our police colleagues will bring the culprit to justice.

Someone out there has information about the person responsible for this, and I urge you to come forward to the police, which you can do in confidence.

At this time there is no evidence to suggest a link between the fire at Ravensdale Infant School and the fire at St Mary’s Academy. They are being treated as separate enquiries.

5th October 2020

Over the weekend, dreadful news unfolded, as we saw two Derby schools devastated by fires. St Marys Catholic School and Ravensdale Infant School have both been severely damaged despite the best efforts of firefighters.

The fire at St Marys School started early on Saturday morning, and firefighters were called to Ravensdale Infant School at around 3.00am this morning. Both have closed today (Monday 5th October).

Remote learning will be offered to pupils in the first instance until safe spaces can be agreed for bubbles of children and staff to move into, and the Council is working with both schools to find suitable spaces. My thanks go out to colleagues here who have worked throughout the weekend to help the schools, and keep councillors and partners updated.

Our schools are at the heart of our communities. Losing a school has an enormous community impact, and it’s fair to say that in an already uncertain time, due to COVID-19, the last thing any of our children need is further disruption. It just makes these incidents even more devastating for the community.

What’s important at this time are the school communities affected, and we’ll do all we can to support them. Both schools are in direct contact with parents and carers. Social care colleagues are supporting the schools to identify and support vulnerable pupils, and also those who were accessing free school meals so that we can determine how we continue access to these.

It will need careful consideration before decisions are made about what is best for the children and staff in these two schools. Solutions will need to be short term, medium and long term. In the short term, a return to remote education is the only solution. In the long term, schools may be rebuilt. It is the medium term solution that will need some care. Derby City Council is committed to providing help and support for both schools, academy and local authority maintained.

Ravensdale Infant School has confirmed that anyone who would like to help can contact Headteacher Lorna Blanchenot Head@ravensdalei.derby.sch.uk.

The joint police and fire investigation is underway to determine what has happened at both schools, and we need to let that happen.

There is a lot of speculation on sprinklers. There were no sprinkler systems installed at Ravensdale Infant School or St Mary’s Catholic Primary School. As Derbyshire’s Chief Fire Officer/Chief Executive (CFO) Gavin Tomlinson said earlier today, it’s totally unacceptable that these events happened, when there are fire safety measures that can prevent such devastation.

There is currently no legal requirement for existing schools to have sprinkler systems. Since changes in Government guidance in 2007, retrofitting of sprinkler systems is an option that now must be included in the risk assessments when any major refurbishments are being considered, which is absolutely right. England is lagging behind Scotland and Wales when it comes to introducing legislation to fit sprinklers in schools, and the Government needs to act.

There is now an expectation that all new build schools should fit sprinkler systems, and this is the case at the new Castleward school being built in Derby.

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