School evacuated after fire

CHILDREN at a Suffolk boarding school were evacuated after a fire took hold of part of a dormitory.The blaze broke out shortly after 1am yesterday at Summerhill School, Leiston.

CHILDREN at a Suffolk boarding school were evacuated after a fire took hold of part of a dormitory.

The blaze broke out shortly after 1am yesterday at Summerhill School, Leiston.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Youngsters and staff at the school were celebrating at an end of term party when the alarm was raised.


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Headteacher Zoe Readhead said: "We have regular fire drills at the school and everyone behaved in exactly the right way. Everyone knew where they had to be and we were quickly able to do a head count and establish that all our pupils and staff were safe and accounted for."

The fire started in the staff quarters of an outbuilding in the school grounds used as a dormitory for the younger pupils aged between eight and nine years old.

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"The pupils in the dormitory were evacuated immediately and then the rest of the school followed.

"Because it was our end of term party many of the pupils were still awake although the fire had nothing to do with the party," said Ms Readhead.

The pupils left the school yesterday as planned on coaches to begin their journeys home. The school has 75 boarders aged from eight to 18 years old from all over the world.

Fire crews from Leiston and Aldeburgh confined the blaze to the staff area of the dormitory building.

"Fire officers told me it was the fire door that held back the flames and stopped the fire spreading to the rest of the dormitory building," said Ms Readhead.

The fire was brought under control in just under an hour but the three rooms used by the house parent in the dormitory were badly damaged.

"It was certainly a fierce fire and quickly took hold. We are very grateful for the quick actions of the fire service," said Ms Readhead.

"I was very shocked by what had happened but our pupils were absolutely marvellous and many of them gave me hugs of support as they could see I was shaken."

The youngsters are due to return to the school for the summer term in five weeks time.

Summerhill School was founded by educational thinker A S Neill. Established during the early 1900s the school allows pupils the freedom to choose whether to attend lessons and gives them voting rights on school matters. Past pupils school include Hollywood actors Rebecca De Mornay and Jake Weber.

In 2000 the school's supporters successfully fought a legal battle to prevent it being closed by Government OFSTED inspectors.

"We are used to overcoming problems at Summerhill as our battles with the OFSTED inspectors prove. I am confident we will soon be back on our feet again after this fire," said Ms Readhead.

The school's main building was not affected by the fire.

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