Safeguarding schools

Sue Corrick explains how responsible persons can use term breaks to extend the service life of fire doors in school buildings.

Over an academic year, most schools receive between 13 and 15 weeks of school holiday. For students and staff alike, each term break represents a precious period of recreation and recuperation, but for most education facilities, holidays and half terms present an opportune time to complete much needed refurbishment and remedial work.

Fire safety is a core area for concern in particular as, according to the Fire Industry Association (FIA), one in 20 schools experience fire in their buildings. Fires can cause school buildings immeasurable damage, and in response – and as stated under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – designated responsible persons must conduct ongoing risk assessments to help identify potential hazards within their premises.

Yet, in 2022, research conducted by Allegion UK into the impact of fire doors in education facilities found that almost half of decision makers had encountered issues with fire doors in their buildings, with over half of respondents also revealing they were not aware of fire door maintenance procedures. As such, responsible persons are urged to make the most of their allotted time and budgets during term breaks, extending the service life of fire door hardware to help ensure students, staff, and visitors are safe and secure when doors once again open for the new term.

A fundamental curriculum

School buildings are inherently diverse environments. While no two facilities may be the same, it is a legal requirement under British and European law for all academic settings to possess operational fire door sets. New regulation continues to draw focus on fire safety in school buildings too, with guidance from the Building Safety Act shining the light on higher-risk buildings of 18 metres in height (or at least 7 storeys tall), with certain education facilities meeting the criteria and thus required to register as high-risk by 1 October 2023.

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all educational facilities are required to designate a responsible person (RP) to cover all matters associated with fire safety. Although the role of fire safety officer is often assumed by a school’s headteacher, the responsibilities associated with this position can be shared between a single person and the local authority or building manager. Irrespective of shared duties, a school building’s responsible person must possess robust knowledge of fire safety, and as part of their ongoing obligations, it is requisite to provide an in-depth, transparent overview of the building’s condition.

A fire risk assessment is designed to identify any potential hazards within an educational premises and as such, covers everything from fire-fighting equipment and fire doors to staff training and pupil understanding towards fire procedures.

To ensure the necessary steps have been followed to reduce the risk of fire, responsible persons must conduct regular risk assessments, consisting of five steps:

  1. Identify the people at risk
  2. Identify all potential fire hazards
  3. Evaluate the risk
  4. Record the findings
  5. Review and revise

Under the ‘evaluation of risk’ step, a school building’s fire protection systems must be assessed, including its fire detection methods and all emergency escape routes – inclusive of the fire doors and hardware that are found throughout them.

School life

Naturally, school classrooms and corridors are often bustling with movement, and during term time, in high traffic areas, fire doors can be used hundreds to thousands of times each day. Over time, daily use inevitably leads to wear and tear on fittings, and in some cases, fire doors may even experience levels of misuse and abuse.

Take the end of each school day for example, where fire doors and their hardware are frequently put to the test as students (and staff) aim to leave the premises quickly. When doors are opened and closed with force, hardware elements can become tired, with poorer quality or incorrectly specified door hardware more prone to damage. To help prevent excessive wear and damage in busier areas, schools may benefit from electromagnetic hold-open devices, which combine wall magnets with existing door closers to aid ease of access and reduce any unnecessary roughness. Similarly, door closers with backcheck control will slow the motion of a door, preventing or minimising contact damage.

In the circumstance of a fire, it’s critical that a fire door closes independently and to completion. Damaged door hardware compromises the performance of a fire door, and as such, in schools where vandalism is an issue, concealed door closers may be the most suited option for high traffic areas. Concealed door closers are ideal for use in school corridors for example, where they facilitate the free flow of movement while remaining hidden from view and thus reducing the temptation for tampering and misuse.

In addition, as part of their responsibilities, designated responsible persons must also ensure escape routes are clear and fire door sets are operating as intended throughout school facilities, making note of and replacing any damaged door hardware in the process. Escape routes play a vital role in fire safety and through effective documentation, communication, and rehearsals, many schools possess a collective understanding of fire evacuation procedures within their building. However, should an escape route become obstructed, or its fire door hardware become faulty, a quick escape can be jeopardised. In school environments, regulations recommend there be at least two escape routes acting independently from one another, with final exit doors on escape routes fitted with working panic exit devices – designed to provide safe and effective escape through a doorway with minimum effort, and without prior knowledge. In spaces where the opening width is limited – or must be limited to prevent injury, such as sports halls – a non-intrusive touch bar can be a practical choice.

Protection on a budget

While school buildings are closed, decision makers are gifted a period of low foot traffic and a sufficient amount of time to undertake compulsory maintenance periods without interruption. Whereas maintenance is key, research from the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers (GAI) has previously revealed education buildings to have the highest average maintenance spend attributed to door hardware. Furthermore, after reviewing school spending as a whole, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that school costs would increase by 6% across 2022/23.

The School Rebuilding Programme continues to put investment into projects for new and refurbished school buildings across the country. Retrofit projects for example, when approached professionally, can make a considerable difference to a building’s operation – improving its efficiency and fire protection and all without needing to replace the existing fire safety infrastructure. Although, when completing retrofit projects, decision makers must consider high quality, like-for-like alternatives, as using sub-standard components may have the adverse effect – further raising replacement costs later down the line and potentially breaching fire safety regulations in the process. Without compromising quality and safety, when budgets are particularly tight, education facilities may also benefit from opting for a more cost-effective finish on their chosen door hardware.

With many academic groups already fearing budget cuts may affect their ability to run facilities as planned, responsible persons are also urged to review their maintenance programmes. Primarily, decision makers can look to decrease their total maintenance spend by choosing more durable products at the product selection stage. The use of higher quality, correctly specified and installed door hardware products will help to lower the rate of sustained wear and damage and thus reduce the costs associated with repair and replacements. The Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI) is an accredited programme designed to present clear, accurate, and up-to-date product information, and can assist decision makers in education by helping them to select trusted hardware that conforms to UKCA and CE certifications.

Above all, responsible persons must ensure fire doors and their hardware are routinely checked throughout the entirety of the school year, adjusting components where necessary to preserve the operation of fire doors. But while schools are closed, there’s truly no better time to get a head start on preparations and updated regulations – responsible persons must seek professional advice where unsure.

To access Allegion UK’s resources to help responsible persons undertake product selection, installation, support, and maintenance checks on fire doors and hardware, visit

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Sue Corrick is the Product Marketing Manager at Allegion.