Arson attacks on schools are at a record low following a concerted effort to educate children about the dangers and consequences of starting fires.
The West Midlands Arson Task Force has revealed that just 12 schools were deliberately set on fire across the region during the whole of last year compared to 59 in 2003, a reduction of almost four-fifths.
The latest figures come as a Parliamentary reply given to Liberal Democrat shadow schools secretary David Laws reveals that firefighters were called to 4,000 fires in schools in the last four years, working out at 20 a week.
Station Officer Ian Rawlings, coordinator of the West Midlands Arson Task Force, said the region now had one of the lowest rates for deliberate school fires in the country.
“We now have other brigades from across the country coming to the West Midlands to see what we are doing. The challenge for the future is to keep our statistics as low as they are. But one of the advantages of them being so low is that if there is a sudden increase we can pinpoint the area.”
Mr Rawlings said that when the task force was formed six years ago, the target was to reduce all arson attacks across the West Midlands by ten per cent by 2010.
The figure currently stands at 64 per cent.
“We adopt a multi-faceted approach, but education is clearly a big part of it,” the fire chief added.
“We have been doing a lot around fire safety but also a great deal on the consequences of arson.
“If we have a lot of secondary fire activity, such as grass or rubbish fires in one particular area, we will target schools in that area to deliver a message to pupils and parents.
“A lot of our big school fires start because of someone setting fire to bins. They don’t seem to realise that a bin fire can quickly spread to the roof.
“We also look at fire safety because, quite frequently, the person who starts the fire gets burnt.”
While this focus has largely been on 10 and 11-year-olds in Key Stage 2, the task force has also produced another pack for Key Stages three and four, with a harder-hitting message containing real-life accounts from burns victims.
And a theatre in education group has been going into secondary schools in the West Midlands to target Year 8 pupils aged 12 and 13.
As well as its education approach, the arson task force also carries out fire risk assessments under the heading of Keep Your School in Business.
“This is about cutting down opportunities for arsonists, as well as general fire prevention work,” he added.