This policy outlines actions schools and early childhood services must take in relation to bushfire and grassfire risk.
- All registered schools, as a component of their registration, must comply with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) Guidelines on Bushfire .
- Schools and early childhood services must ensure they understand their bushfire and grassfire hazard exposure, their risk and the actions that they need to take for their emergency management planning, preparedness, ongoing situational awareness and response.
- Schools on the department’s Bushfire At-Risk Register and assessed to be at the greatest risk of fire need to understand the corresponding pre-emptive actions that are required on days of elevated fire danger (High or Extreme fire danger rating (FDR) based on risk categorisation) in their local government area.
- All schools and early childhood services on the BARR, and schools and early childhood services considered at risk of bushfire or grassfire (Category , must close on all days forecasted by the Bureau of Meteorology to be Catastrophic FDR in their fire weather district.
- Schools must cancel all bus routes which travel through fire weather districts that are forecasted to be Catastrophic FDR.
- In the event of exposure to an immediate bushfire or grassfire threat, all school principals and approved providers/facility managers (or their delegates) have the authority to enact their Emergency Management Plan (EMP).
- The department and the Country Fire Authority have collaborated to provide guidance to schools and early childhood services on the BARR and Category 4 list on preparing for the risk of bushfire and grassfire, available on the Guidance tab.
- Some Victorian schools are also designated Neighbourhood Safer or accommodate Community Fire Refuges which are buildings or land that are intended to be used as a refuge of last resort during the passage of a bushfire, for persons whose primary bushfire plans have failed. Further details can be found in the Guidance tab.
Bushfire and grassfire risk management
The department’s Bushfire and Grassfire Preparedness Policy is informed by expert advice from the emergency sector, including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
Schools and early childhood services around Victoria are at varying risk from bushfire and grassfire:
- Every school and facility should consider if they are located near bushland or grassland, placing it at increased risk of bushfires or grassfires. Information and resources are available from the Country Fire .
- All registered schools, as a component of their registration, must comply with the VRQA’s Guidelines on Bushfire (VRQA Guidelines).
- In addition, the department maintains a register of the schools and early childhood services most at risk of bushfire – the BARR. The department also maintains a list of schools and early childhood services at a lower level of risk of bushfire and grassfire (Category 4 list).
- Schools on the BARR have additional preparedness requirements under the VRQA Guidelines.
Schools and early childhood services at any risk of bushfire and grassfire can be required to take pre-emptive action to protect against the risk of fire. For more information, refer to the Pre-emptive actions chapter of the Guidance tab in conjunction with this policy.
In the event of exposure to an immediate bushfire or grassfire threat, all school principals or facility managers (or their delegates) have the authority to enact the school or facility’s Emergency Management Plan (EMP).
Risk assessment and categorisation of schools and early childhood services on the BARR
The department has applied an evidence-based methodology for identifying which schools and early childhood services will be on the BARR and how BARR schools’ risk will be categorised.
All schools and early childhood services in Victoria are reviewed utilising a fire risk methodology developed by the CSIRO for Victorian educational facilities.
When determining which schools and early childhood services should be on the BARR, the department, based on advice from the CSIRO, considers:
- the site's Bushfire Prone Area
- the Bushfire Management
- the Victorian Fire Risk
- the site's terrain, fuel and vegetation type.
Schools and early childhood services listed on the BARR are rated according to their level of bushfire risk, as either Category 1, 2 or 3, with Category 1 having the highest bushfire risk profile. Fire risk categories are reviewed and confirmed annually.
Schools and early childhood services at some risk of bushfire or grassfire
The department maintains a list of schools and early childhood services at some lower level of risk for bushfire or grassfire which is reviewed annually. Refer to the Schools and early childhood services at risk of grassfire (Category page for further information.
Schools and early childhood services on this list must close on days that are forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology as at a Catastrophic FDR in their fire weather district and cancel their bus routes.
All schools and early childhood services located near grassland must record their grassfire response procedures in their EMP, and government schools are to utilise the online EMP to do this. Refer to Emergency and Critical Incident Management Planning.
Schools and early childhood services on the BARR
The department maintains a register of the schools and early childhood services most at risk of bushfire – the Bushfire At-Risk Register .
When listed on the BARR, the school:
- is categorised based on its bushfire risk
- must meet requirements for bushfire preparedness in the VRQA Guidelines
- may be required, based on its BARR category, to enact their pre-emptive action plan (being either their pre-emptive relocation, learning from home, or closure plan) on High or Extreme FDR days in their local government area (LGA)
- must close on days forecasted by the Bureau of Meteorology as Catastrophic FDR in their fire weather district and cancel any bus routes
- receives bushfire-specific compliance advice for their Shelter-in-Place building.
Schools and early childhood services with queries about this register should email email@example.com
Bushfire preparedness for schools at bushfire risk
Schools and early childhood services located near bushland must record their bushfire response procedures in their EMP, and government schools must use an online EMP to do this. Refer to Emergency and Critical Incident Management Planning.
The VRQA include specific requirements in relation to infrastructure and site maintenance, emergency management planning, information sharing and training that BARR schools must comply with as a condition of their registration.
Note: Early childhood services are separately regulated by the department’s Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD). Emergency management requirements for early childhood services are available at Emergency management requirements – early childhood .
Arrangements for schools at highest bushfire risk
Schools in Categories 0, 1 and 2 must have one of the following pre-emptive action plans, based on their specific context and fire risk:
- Relocation pre-emptive action plan – relocation of the school to operate on a safer school site
- Learning from home pre-emptive action plan
- Closure pre-emptive action plan
Refer to the Resources tab for templates to support the development of pre-emptive action plans.
Relocation is always the preferred option to ensure safety for staff and students and the continuity of education, however this is not always possible for every school. Where relocation is not feasible then a learning from home plan should be considered to continue education where it is safe to do so.
If relocation is not a feasible option, identified highest risk BARR schools will be approved by their regional director to develop a learning from home or closure plan.
Your school’s pre-emptive action plans must be developed in consultation with regional emergency management staff, reviewed by your senior education improvement leader (SEIL) and approved by your regional director.
After approval by your regional director, your plan must be monitored each year to ensure it is still up to date. Any changes to your plan will need to be reviewed and approved by your regional director by 1 September each year, in line with your annual update to your school’s EMP.
Pre-emptive actions will be triggered for Category 0 schools on a forecasted High and Extreme FDR day in their LGA, and for Category 1 and 2 schools on a forecasted Extreme FDR day in their LGA.
Ahead of the fire danger period, these schools must:
- engage and involve their school community in bushfire preparedness planning
- identify a host location
- develop a bushfire preparedness pre-emptive relocation, learning from home or closure plan for approval from their regional director – refer to the Resources tab for template plans.
Arrangements for highest risk schools will be as follows:
- Category 0 schools – will relocate, undertake learning from home arrangements or close in accordance with their pre-approved plan on a day of forecast High and Extreme FDR for their LGA
- Category 1 schools – will relocate, undertake learning from home arrangements or close in accordance with their pre-approved plan on a day of forecast Extreme FDR for their LGA
- Category 2 schools – will relocate, undertake learning from home arrangements or close in accordance with their pre-approved plan on a day of forecast Extreme FDR for their LGA.
Before enacting a pre-emptive action plan, schools must:
- notify staff, parents and carers, outside school hours care and other site users, for example, contractors
- complete the Enacting your pre-emptive action plan (relocation, learning from home, or closure) checklist
- make alternate arrangements for camps and excursions that are due to depart or arrive at the school on the day of the relocation.
These arrangements are not applicable to Catastrophic FDR days as the department implements a pre-emptive closure plan for all schools on the BARR and Category 4 list.
Schools on the BARR, regardless of categorisation, may still apply to their regional director to have alternate arrangements for their school due to elevated fire danger forecast which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. These schools, in the first instance, should discuss their plans with their regional manager, operations and emergency management.
Catastrophic FDR days
Schools and early childhood services on the BARR and Category 4 list regardless of risk category, must close and cancel their buses on days forecasted by the Bureau of Meteorology as Catastrophic FDR in their fire weather district. All other buses which travel through the Catastrophic FDR fire weather district will also be cancelled.
Catastrophic FDR is the highest level of fire danger. These are the most dangerous conditions for a fire and if a fire starts and takes hold, lives are likely to be lost. Catastrophic FDR days will be forecast for the whole of a fire weather district.
The department will be advised of the potential for Catastrophic FDR conditions through the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts. The region will:
- wherever possible, provide schools and early childhood services with 4 to 7 days’ notice of a possible Catastrophic FDR day closure to enable schools to forewarn their school and parent/carer community
- confirm the final decision to close a school by 1 pm the day before the Catastrophic FDR day closure.
Ahead of the fire danger period, schools and early childhood services on the BARR and Category 4 list must:
- advise their school and parent/carer community and all site users of the arrangements for the summer that the school or early childhood facility will be closed on any Catastrophic FDR day in their fire weather district, and nobody is to be on site that day
- include pre-emptive closure procedures in their emergency management plan
- complete the activities outlined in the bushfire/grassfire readiness checklist schools or bushfire/grassfire readiness checklist early childhood
- notify bus travellers and parents/carers that no school bus services will operate to or from a school closed on a Catastrophic FDR day in their fire weather district.
Note: Schools and early childhood services not on the BARR or Category 4 list will remain open, unless they are directly threatened by fire or another emergency.
Schools and early childhood services on the BARR and Category 4 list must do the following before closing on a Catastrophic FDR day:
- notify staff, parents/carers and all other site users (including school-based contractors*, outside school hours care, extracurricular activities and programs) that the school or early childhood facility will close and nobody is to be on site that day (schools may consider using the template letters and newsletter content, for this purpose, refer to the Resources tab)
- check proposed camp and excursion venues located in forecast Catastrophic FDR fire weather districts and update the Student Activity with cancellations or changes
- notify bus travellers, parents, bus operators and client schools of potential and confirmed cancellation of bus routes.
Schools are strongly encouraged to download the VicEmergency to maintain situational awareness, including notification of any forecasts of Catastrophic FDR days in their fire weather district.
All school and early childhood facility closures as well as bus service cancellations are published on the department website – refer to Closures and bus service .
*This policy does not apply to construction sites separately cordoned off from the school site under the control of a Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) contractor. For further information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
All schools (regardless of their BARR status) must nominate a building or buildings on the school site that can provide temporary accommodation until emergency services arrive and/or as a building of last resort if there is insufficient time to evacuate. The school must identify the Shelter-In-Place in their EMP and follow the process described to request changes to nominated SIP buildings.
For further details refer to Shelter-in-Place Buildings.
Planned burning is conducted throughout the state to reduce the risk to communities from future bushfires. For more information about the location and timing of planned burns for the next ten days, you may contact the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667 or visit the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning – Planned Burns .
- Buildings and Grounds Maintenance and Compliance
- Emergency and Critical Incident Management Planning
- Leave — Bushfire, Flood or Other Severe Weather Event
- Shelter-in-Place Buildings
For information about vegetation clearance grants available to schools in bushfire prone areas:
School Grants Unit
For all other enquiries regarding bushfire and grassfire preparedness:
Policy and Intelligence Unit
Security and Emergency Management Division
03 7022 0269
Reviewed 30 March 2023