Top three insurance risks facing academy schools

  • Fire, flooding and liability concerns feature most prominently for academies, according to a recent Zurich Municipal survey
  • Schools can be forced to close for many months due to fire and flood incidents
  • A new culture of litigation is bringing about an increase in liability claims

Fire, flooding and liability concerns top the insurance risk list for academy schools, according to a survey of academies by leading schools insurer Zurich Municipal.

And with more state secondary schools now holding academy status, these are fears that are likely to be held by much of the education sector.

Fire is still seen as the number one risk among academy schools, despite a dramatic reduction in the number of incidents in recent times. Flood concerns have also become more pressing, especially as climate change is seemingly ushering in a ‘new normal’ of wetter and more extreme weather to the British Isles.

Liability issues, such as ‘slip and trip’ claims, are another exposure that has moved up the risk agenda in academy schools, as a more litigious society appears to have crept across the Atlantic from the US.

So what have academies got to worry about, and how can they best plan to prevent these risks from being present?


Fire prevention can sometimes be given a low priority in the administration of schools – although all schools have to abide by basic fire safety regulations.

And despite government statistics showing a downward trend in fires in schools – from approximately 1,300 fires in 2000/01 to 700 in 2011/12 – it still means around 3% of all schools experience a fire each year. In the last decade alone, there have been 145 injuries resulting from fires in schools.

Arson is the single major cause of fires in schools, accounting for 60% of all blazes. A 2009 report from the Association of British Insurers estimated that 20 schools a week suffer an arson attack, causing damage costing £65 million. Socially deprived areas and schools are especially vulnerable.

A major fire can leave pupils forced to use portable buildings for many months and can cause seven-figure damages. The closing days of the summer holidays and first week of the autumn term are times schools are particularly susceptible to arson attacks.

The short-term costs of a fire in a school can be loss of facilities and equipment, which can be calculated, but longer-term effects can be loss of coursework, disruption to the education of children and lowering of staff morale – all of which are much harder to quantify.

The use of sprinkler systems can be an important weapon against fires in schools and can help prevent their devastating impact. Staff and pupils should participate in regular fire drills, and fire-fighting equipment such as extinguishers should be regularly checked and readily accessible.


Flooding – either weather related or caused by a leak of some kind – can also cause major disruption for schools. During severe weather conditions, hundreds of staff and students can be affected. In the floods of June and July 2007, the Environment Agency estimated that 400,000 pupil days were lost.

In a flooding crisis, the government advises that schools should be kept open for as many pupils as possible, unless there is a risk of injury.

But schools can be forced to close, sometimes for many months, due to adverse weather events. Much like a fire, the results of flooding can be devastating – causing significant disruption to pupils and teachers, as well as long-term damage to buildings.

Flooding was generally perceived to be much less of an issue for schools a couple of decades ago, but recent climatic changes have pushed the issue up the risk agenda. According to the Environment Agency, as many as 401 schools are now at severe risk of flooding, having been built on flood plains.

And it is not just severe weather; the risk to schools of flooding from faulty plumbing is very real, too – and small amounts of water can do a lot of damage.

So for schools, being as resilient and resistant as possible to flooding, as well as checking that pipes, radiators and boilers are in working order, is the key to mitigating risk in this area.

Liability (accidents to pupils, staff and visitors)

Growing numbers of schools are banning playground games and class trips, as a new culture of litigation takes hold in the UK. The problem is being fuelled by offering parents ‘no-win, no-fee’ deals.

A 2012 study published by the Centre for Policy Studies found that millions of pounds was being spent by schools on legal bills every year. Examples include a £40,000 pay out for a pupil breaking his leg on a school trip, and £30,000 being handed out to a family after a pupil fell off a bench.

Accidents can range from slips and trips of pupils, to injuries sustained during sporting activities, children being the victim of assaults on school grounds, and teachers suffering accident, illness or injury at school during the course of their work. Visitors, too, can claim for accidents on school premises.

Schools have a responsibility for health and safety. And while slips and trips are the most common cause of injury on education premises – that can lead to both minor and major injuries – the risks are preventable if simple solutions are followed, such as sensible cleaning regimes, use of slip-resistant footwear and good lighting.

An adaptable policy to risk is key to helping prevent these major threats, and Zurich Municipal can provide information and advice on how best to prepare for them and mitigate their effects.

Find out more and access helpful guides and insight with our new Fire and Flood Risk Resources.