How to protect your school during half terms and holidays

The closing days of the summer holidays and first week of the autumn term historically represent a period when schools have seen significant losses in terms of theft, vandalism and arson

Zurich Municipal's considerable experience of dealing with school's claims and, in particular, claims triggered by fire-setting, tells us that the opening and closing days of the holiday period and in the days before the school closes, signify times when schools are most vulnerable to arson-related fire losses.

The following fire guidance summary is aimed at helping schools and academies to mitigate such losses, both in terms of the likelihood of a fire happening with advice regarding security and assessment, as well as around reducing the impact, should the worst happen.

Last summer the unprecedented rioting and looting witnessed in a number of London boroughs and other towns and city centres over the country caused widespread damage and disorder. 

While schools emerged from the riots relatively unscathed, the riots were a stark indication as to the diverse nature of what constitutes a major incident today and a reminder of the need to plan for any eventuality. 

Zurich Municipal has put together some general major incident guidance (which could be called upon in a range of scenarios) to help schools and academies plan and prepare for the unexpected.

Business continuity planning is not just for fire, floods and other more typical circumstances. It is also for other incidents, such as an outbreak of disease or large-scale public disorder. It is increasingly important to have robust plans in place that can respond to a whole range of incidents which may affect or interrupt the running of your school.

As a leading insurance and risk management partner to schools and academies across the UK, as well as being a global insurer, Zurich Municipal has a wealth of knowledge and experience of major incidents.

You may wish to consider the guidance in relation to your own school or academy and its individual requirements but we hope this information will assist you should a fire or other major incident threaten your operation.

Fire guidance

Fire safety management framework

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which replaced most fire safety legislation, became effective in October 2006 and requires all workplaces (including schools) to do the following:

• Complete a fire risk assessment of the school. This should be carried out by someone who has sufficient training and experience. The risk assessment must take into account all people who may be affected by a fire in the school and this can form part of the existing health and safety risk assessments. The assessment includes a requirement to consider people with disabilities and special needs
• Provide adequate fire precautions to ensure that people who use the school are safe
• Provide training and information to staff about the fire precautions in the school

The risk assessment process

The risk assessment findings are used to establish what fire precautions you need to provide, to ensure a safe environment for the pupils and staff. It will require an assessment of the entire property and should include the following points:

• Identification of all the fire hazards in the school
• Outdoor areas and areas only rarely used also need to be assessed and, for larger schools, it is recommended that the assessment is completed for separate buildings or departments to make the task simpler and clearer to understand
• Establish who could be in danger if a fire occurs and ensure that people can escape safely
Identify people in and around the premises and people who are especially at risk
• Establish if your existing fire precautions are adequate, or identify if more should be done to get rid of, or reduce, the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible
• Take other measures to make sure there is protection if flammable or explosive materials are used or stored
• Record findings of the risk assessment in writing and note what has been done to reduce or eliminate the risks
• The results of the findings should be given to your staff
• Constantly keep the risk assessment under review to ensure this up-to-date

Fire detection and warning

• The risk assessment process must establish if there are adequate means to warn people of a fire in the school
• This could take the form of an electronic fire alarm system in larger premises, or in small schools this could be hand bells, whistles or a manually operated fire alarm bell
• The key test is to ensure that the fire alarm system can be heard throughout the entire school in all circumstances
• You must also establish if there are fire warning devices for any disabled visitors
• The fire alarm must be tested weekly and these tests should be recorded.
• Adequate fire alarm call points should be available around the school
• Fire drills should be held at least once per term and these should be recorded

School areas of higher risk

When it comes to school fires, some areas represent a slightly higher risk than others. These should be thoroughly assessed and key considerations include:

External waste areas

• Areas housing waste bins and combustible storage pose a higher fire risk, particularly for arson.
• All waste bins should be secured a minimum of eight metres from buildings. Any skips should ideally have lids that are kept locked when not in use. 
• Bins should not be fixed to combustible wall cladding, nor located in covered or recessed areas.

Accessible roof areas
• It is important to take all possible steps to prevent access onto school roofs. There are many school buildings that are single storey with flat roofs. 
• Remove climbing aids such as low walls, railings, bins – wherever practical.
• Replace round rainwater down pipes with square, plastic down pipes that fit flush to the wall.
• Consider enclosing the down pipes to prevent them being climbed.

Gates and fences
• Fencing is available in a variety of materials and types. Fences more than two metres in height may require planning permission, particularly if adjacent to a highway.
• Quick growing thorn hedges and other prickly shrubs can be effective barriers once the plants have thickened and matured. Additionally, maintenance costs are low.
• Conduct pre-holiday checks to ensure fences are intact. Ensure gates are fitted with suitable locks and that bolts, hinges and handles do not act as easy scaling points.
• Ensure planting around the building does not provide unnecessary areas of seclusion. Trees and bushes overhanging boundary fencing can provide easy intruder access.

General major incident guidance.

Key considerations in pre-incident planning

• Ensure your emergency response plan and teams are in place.
• Confirm the plan is up to date to reflect any recent operational or staff changes and to recognise that the emergency services may not be able to respond immediately to all incidents.
• Establish protocol – what constitutes an emergency and who invokes the plan.
• Assign clear roles and responsibilities for:
- call out protocol
- calling your insurer and other key parties
- managing any media interest 
- liaising with parents, the local community and other interested school stakeholders
- keeping emergency numbers safe and accessible
- appointing deputies.
• Stress test the plan – keep it simple and easy to read and use in an emergency.
• Identify where you might host your command centre in the event of an incident and document this in your plans.

Think about temporary buildings should you suffer property loss. 

Key considerations during an incident

• Implement your emergency plan with a clear command centre and structure.
• Assess the situation and prioritise next steps.
• Maintain lines of communication with key stakeholders – for example, local media can be a powerful tool for reaching and updating communities. 


As soon as the initial impact of the emergency has subsided, focus on damage limitation and recovery. Decisions at this stage will have a significant impact on how well the school recovers.

Key considerations following an incident

• Reconvene emergency teams swiftly to discuss and implement forward actions.
• Appoint a single point of contact to manage your claims.
• Contact your insurance company as soon as possible so advice and assistance can be given without delay. Many policy conditions require notifications within seven days.
• Prioritise next steps and keep an actions log.
• Actively manage the communications channel to staff, parents, students, sponsors/investment partners, suppliers, local community.
• Where they are involved, proactively engage with bodies such as the Health & Safety Executive as this will save time in the long run.
• Don't underestimate the impact and shock on teaching staff and parents – ensure a clear and positive message is delivered in all communications.
• If full recovery is likely to be over the medium to long term be prepared to bring in additional resource to manage the transition and be realistic in communications to stakeholders.

For more information or guidance on any of the issues raised please contact Zurich Municipal at or visit

You can read more newsworthy articles around other key topics within the education sector at :
• Zurich Muncipal’s  News & Views webpage: 
• Zurich Municipal’s education partner zone on the Guardian website: