The Academy, Selsey: a hot works case study

  • On 21 August 2016, a huge fire destroyed most of Selsey Academy in West Sussex
  • State-of-the-art replacement facilities are expected to open early next year
  • Head teacher, Tom Garfield, explains how the school has recovered following the incident, and the lessons that have been learned along the way

On the 21st August 2016 The Academy, Selsey in West Sussex experienced one of the most significant school fires in recent history.

Head teacher, Tom Garfield, explains how the school has recovered following the incident, where routine maintenance involving hot works was taking place.

 “Our school business manager, who was away on holiday, phoned me to say the contractor had reported an issue on the roof,” Tom explains “She asked me if I could drive to the school to check everything was ok. I wasn’t aware at that stage exactly what had happened, but halfway through my journey, I could already see great plumes of smoke.”

The fire, which is believed to have been started accidentally by a workman, had fully taken hold by the time Tom arrived. He said: “It was quite a shock to see the school I’d worked at for a decade up in smoke, but I had to put that to the back of my mind because there were so many practical things that needed doing.

The fire destroyed most of the main school building, leaving Tom in a race against time to make alternative arrangements for students to collect their GCSE results the following week, and then find somewhere for all the students to go when the September term started.

Tom praised the support of Zurich Municipal during this process.

“We really appreciate how they made themselves readily available in those first few weeks. We had lots of regular, scheduled meetings, and they got a clear sense of what we were trying to achieve. This meant that although there were some aspects of our claim where they needed more detail, they weren’t bogging us down with endless questions about the minutiae.

“Their approach meant we could get on with the job of getting our school back up and running.”

Tom said that while the school’s procedures for responding to a major incident had functioned effectively, the fire prompted a rethink within TKAT about the use of hot works in future construction and maintenance projects.

“Our default position now is that we don’t allow hot works to take place, and there would have to be compelling reasons to change that position,” he said.

Tilden Watson, Head of Education, Zurich Municipal added: “The Academy, Selsey’s experience shows two things. Firstly, just how important it is for schools and colleges to have a hot works policy in place. Secondly, the need to consider what support you will need from your risk carrier if ever a crisis were to occur. Both areas need to be fully thought through. It is therefore critical that schools inform their insurer about hot works prior to starting the work”

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