The School Security Report
In reality, the issue of school security is usually shared between the Local Education Authority (in the case of LEA maintained schools), the governing body and the head teacher. However, other important opinion forming bodies such as the police, fire service, social services, insurers, equipment provider and maintenance contractors as well as consultants and local community representatives can all make a valuable contribution to the creation of a safe school site.
School security covers a wide range of topics but research commissioned by the DfES (Department for Education and Skills), (published in April 2003) identified the personal safety of staff, pupils and visitors to be the No1 safety concern within schools, followed by worries relating to intrusion onto school premises, vandalism, arson and burglary.
Clearly, effective perimeter security and a well thought out access control strategy have an important role to play in responding to these concerns.
Duty of care
Once children are within the school premises, it is accepted that this where they will remain unless otherwise advised by the teaching staff. Sadly, as many reports in the press will testify, this is all too often not the case. In October 2009, a two year old wandered out of the gates of this primary school in Manchester, dodging traffic on a busy main road and crossing two side streets before returning home. The school’s reaction was that they could not lock the gates due to the deliveries they receive and could not afford to install electric gates.
The above incident highlights two important considerations in relation to school security. Firstly that, ideally there should always be a separate access control point for trade deliveries to a school, distinct from the entry / exit point for school pupils. Secondly, that if a child is able to exit the school with such implied ease, it also follows that an unwanted intruder / trespasser could equally enter the school with minimal effort. Keeping children safe in the school premises is not just about ring fencing them into a given area. It is equally important to take the relevant steps to ensure the ‘safe area’ boasts effective security measures to act as a deterrent to any unauthorised visitors.
All too often a school’s security is compromised by a failure to recognise weaknesses or breaks in the overall site security. There is no benefit to be derived from installing an impressive security fence and gates at the front of the school if it is possible for intruders to access the grounds via an unprotected entry point elsewhere on the site. Equally, if some pupils gain access to the school via a local footpath it will be important to extend the security architecture to include this access route.
The physical security that surrounds a school site needs to be interfaced with intelligent access control solutions across the entire campus. Generally speaking most schools (and nurseries) will require segregated access to the main reception from the car park, for both staff and visitors, at which point all visitors are vetted and their reason for wanting to gain entry qualified prior to being granted access to the site. On larger sites it is usually advisable to consider dedicated pedestrian gates and turnstiles with access control and management systems. In the interest of safety, all access controls must work in conjunction with any fire alarm installation to ensure a speedy evacuation of the site when required.
When considering the choice of fencing, schools should consider the recommendations of Secured by Design (SBD) owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which advises that perimeter fencing should be a minimum of 2m in height, vandal resistant and robust, grounded on a hard surface, be difficult to scale and have an anti climb topping. However, this guidance must be balanced with an understanding of the negative implications associated with adopting a prison like approach to a school’s physical perimeter security and an appreciation of the need to only install anti climb topping where the general public cannot come into accidental contact with it. Chain link and similar low security fencing should only be used for boundary demarcation purposes and is not suitable to serve as a secure line of defence. Robust defensive planting in conjunction with the right choice of perimeter fence can act as an additional deterrent and can also help meet the ‘aesthetic’ planning requirements. All perimeter gates should be lockable, have anti-lift hinges and be devoid of any features which could provide a foothold and therefore encourage climbing. Regular inspection of any fencing must be carried out, to identify any holes or damage in the fence run which can provide easy entry and exit routes. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that the fence line is clear from over hanging branches, storage bins or anything that could be construed as a potential climbing aid.
In addition to providing effective physical security, fencing can also be used to address specific environmental problems. Noise pollution is often a consideration around schools with road / rail noise entering the teaching environment as well as playground noise leaching into the neighbourhood. And the current trend to extend the teaching environment into the outdoor classroom, poses an even greater risk of the local community being adversely affected by unacceptable noise levels. In these situations, school should seek out a fencing solution that also offers noise reduction capabilities. Jakoustic Fencing is a revolutionary barrier system that combines outstanding noise reduction characteristics (as much as 32 decibels) with security and high privacy performance.
Schools electing to update their perimeter security must also bear in mind the need to combine functionality with aesthetic appeal. Selecting a fence which delivers an effective security barrier, whilst also enhancing the local landscape to offer a lasting legacy will impact favourably on the neighbouring community.
Be Gate Safe
If the school features automated gates it is imperative that these are compliant with current guidelines. In 2010 , two children were tragically killed (in separate incidents) after becoming trapped in automated gates sited on residential housing developments. In addition a further four incidents have been reported where children have narrowly escaped serious injury in similar accidents. One of these ‘near miss’ incidents occurred in a school and involved a three-year-old boy whose head became trapped between an electric security gate and the gate post. The Gate Safe campaign was set up to improve standards in automated gate safety and to raise awareness of the importance of observing the relevant safety protocol. All automated gates (swing and sliding) must be CE certified and comply with the EU Machinery directive. Schools should refer to the Gate Safe web site www.gate-safe.co.uk for more information or contact Gate Safe for a safety audit of any existing / new electric gates. All schools should also take the appropriate steps to keep their gates regularly maintained to ensure continued compliance.
Effective physical security for an education establishment does not only merely extend to keeping children in, and intruders out of the school site. Specifying the right product to minimise the risk of accidents is also of paramount importance. Fencing or gate solutions which have been specifically constructed to prevent puncture wounds, splinters or entrapment of limbs should be sought out, so infant and junior schools should focus on ranges that are RoSPA approved and BS EN 1176 compliant. Schools selecting these products will significantly reduce the risk of public liability claims– an all-important consideration in today’s increasingly litigious society. Jacksons steel and timber play fencing has been specifically designed for the safe and secure demarcation of areas in use by schools with the overarching requirement to minimize the risk of injury whilst still providing effective containment. Products such as Anti-Trap Bow Top Fencing feature a wider gap between each hoop to specifically prevent children from getting wedged within the fencing structure, whilst the matching gate boasts an in-ground self-closing hinge with adjustable closing rate and soft close feature specifically designed to prevent slamming and the associated risk of injured fingers.
With the increasing drive to offer children the opportunity to participate in physical exercise, much emphasis is placed on the need for Multi Use Games Areas - designed to accommodate a variety of outdoor games. Attention must be given to creating a suitable play surface but equally important yet often overlooked, is the need to maintain the flow of play and to provide a safe enclosure for both players and spectators. Jacksons Multi Use Games Areas have been designed in line with guidelines published by Sport England in conjunction with the Sports and Play Construction Association and include the provision of bolt holes to prevent a person from being backed into a corner in bullying situations.
In addition, with the on-going pressure on school budgets, it is imperative that any investment in fencing and access control measures represents a responsible use of public funds. Whenever possible, schools should take a long-term view on investment in capital purchases and select products which offer a long life expectancy, ensuring a low life time cost. All Jacksons timber and steel fencing and gates are manufactured in the UK and are designed to deliver fitness for purpose, low maintenance and carry class leading 25 year guarantees to provide lowest lifetime cost. And it’s not just the cost in monetary terms that must be assessed. Increasingly schools are being required to demonstrate sound environmental practice to protect the earth’s finite resources. Jacksons Fencing has achieved certification under the environmental chain-of-custody schemes of both the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) for its timber products.
Jacksons Fencing has produced a School Security Tool Kit which is available as a free download from the company’s web site www.jacksons-security.co.uk/schools_tool_kit.aspx. For further advice on perimeter security / access control for schools, or to request a security audit, contact Jacksons on 01233 750 393