Safeguarding Schools for Today and into the Future
While in essence, both the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) and PCP (Primary Capital Programme) initiatives are highly commendable, what is the point in the substantial targeting of funds designed to improve the built environment within the education sector, if these new schools fail to harness the opportunity to meet the increasing security needs of the 21st century?
The October 2008 “Evaluation of Building Schools for the Future” Technical Report examines the success of the BSF programme to date. Sadly very little information can be gleaned which relates to the security perceptions of the new buildings aside from a pupil survey question which asks children’s views on the statement ‘the school building feels like a safe place to be’ to which 45% of respondents who were in a BSF school agreed with this statement whilst an alarming 54% were unsure or disagreed.
Threats to school security
The ability to gain access to a school with the intent of causing criminal damage is an obvious security issue out of school hours. Unauthorised entry poses an obvious threat but of equal importance is the requirement to provide a safe and secure environment, free from criminal and anti-social behaviour or the need to prevent access to individuals’ intent on inflicting violence.
School security – whose responsibility is it?
OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) holds responsibility for ‘inspecting and regulating to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people”. However, OFSTED does not make school security audits per se.
In 1995 the Department for Children, Schools and Families set up a Working Group on School Security (WGSS). Its remit was and continues to be “to identify good practice in maintaining security in and around schools ….”.
One of the suggestions that came out of the WGSS was the appointment of a designated member of staff to take on the role of School Security co-coordinator. But, whilst schools, police and local agencies are being encouraged to sign up to Safer School Partnerships and work more closely together to keep schools and children safe, research seems to indicate that it is still individual schools that are responsible for the day to day management of security and there is currently no direct mandate for a School Security officer.
Guidance on school security
Schools are educators, not security experts, however, those involved should consider a review of the guidance laid out in the ‘Secured by Design – Schools’ recommendations (issued by the Association of Chief Police officers as part of the Secured by Design initiative) and in ‘School and Academy Design’ – a guide to the design and protection of Schools and Academy buildings published by Zurich Municipal Insurance.
The importance of perimeter security fencing was identified by Zurich as the ‘most effective of all the measures commonly available to provide protection to a school against theft, malicious damage and any subsequent deliberately set fire’. Fit for purpose physical perimeter security measures combined with effective access control should form the cornerstone of any school security upgrade. Richard Jackson, Chief Executive of Jacksons Fencing – experts in the field of intelligent perimeter security systems says “The Head Teacher, Facilities Team, governing body and the LEA all have roles to play to ensure a school has an effective school security strategy in place. Any failure to implement a plan to create a safe environment comes at an enormous cost – not just in terms of financial loss and disruption, but also loss of confidence from parents and pupils and the impact of potentially lasting damage to a school’s reputation. We wholly support the guidelines in the ‘Secured by Design - Schools’ dossier and echo the sentiment that whilst perimeter security plays a vital role in establishing a secure physical frontline defence, it needs to be designed taking into consideration the security and access control requirements of the entire site..”
Factors contributing to a safe and secure school site include:
- The number of entrances to a school site should always be reduced to the minimum practicable and vehicles and pedestrians should be segregated but directed through one main entry and exit, so siting car parks, footpaths and drop off / pick up points in appropriate locations can help to achieve this.
- On larger sites it is usually advisable to consider pedestrian gates and turnstiles with access control and management systems.
- All visitors to the site should be screened and anyone scheduled to carry out any work within the school grounds must conform to the requirements of the Safeguarding the Vulnerable Groups Act, be CRB cleared and able to provide proof of identity.
- Access controls should work in conjunction with any fire alarm installation to enable the safe and fast evacuation of the site in the event of an emergency.
- Perimeter fencing should restrict both unauthorised access and exit and must be specifically designed to be fit for purpose. For example, the Jacksons ranges all feature a welded pale-through-rail construction which is not only inherently strong and vandal proof, but also gives a better finish with no visible joints or unsightly bolts. Unlike generic riveted palisade fencing, the Jacksons solution is attractive and cannot be easily forced apart or used to create a ‘gate’ to the site. Jacksons fencing and gates are designed in-house and subject to rigorous trials and testing to destruction.
- Selective planting of thorny bushes and hedging can complement the choice of security fencing. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the fenceline is clear from overhanging branches, storage bins or vehicles that can act as a climbing aid.
- Security fencing that is attractive as well as functional can also help overcome the concern of creating a prison like environment. Higher security versions of Jacksons EuroGuard Combi and Jakoustic timber / steel mesh designs have recently been approved by Government following testing and meet the requirements of Secured by Design Police Preferred Specification.
- All fencing and gates must comply with current quality and safety regulations – the latter is especially important in today’s increasingly litigious society. All Jacksons vertical bar railing type fencing and gates conform to UK Building Regulations for anti-trap with 100mm pale spacing as standard.
- Gate specifications should match the fencing and incorporate appropriate high quality locks and anti-lift hinges. Care should be given to avoid any features which assist climbing. Jacksons automated sliding and swing gate designs are CE certified and comply with EU Machinery Directive (a legislative requirement), essential if the school wants to meet with its duty of care and protect itself against possible costly litigation in the event of an accident.
Safer Play Areas
In infant and junior schools and for play areas, schools should opt for RoSPA (The Royal Society for The Prevention of Accidents) approved and BS EN 1176 (British European Standards Specification) compliant products. Jacksons Anti-trap Bow Top fencing, Play Time ranges and self-closing gates all comply with BS EN 1176 play fence standards and are RoSPA approved; and as an added feature can be colour coated to enhance the children’s play environment.
Site security audit
It is impossible to create a secure school site without reviewing each case on an individual basis. “Whether reviewing the needs of a new or existing school, the priority must be on the planning”, continues Richard Jackson. “Only then can we hope to achieve the very best solutions, designed to make 21st century schools secure, safe and future perfect environments. We would urge all parties associated with the provision and operation of school buildings – from architects, teachers, governors, local authorities and building commissioners – to take advantage of the audit service provided by companies who have the prerequisite experience and expertise and Secured by Design, LPCB (Loss Prevention Certification Board) accredited products to ensure appropriate school site security measures are put in place. Findings from the first wave of our own School Security Audits show managing access points, reducing noise and providing a secure perimeter outside school hours to be the main concerns. The threats that schools most want to protect against are unauthorized entry to and egress from their grounds during school hours, and acts of vandalism, theft and arson out of hours”.
For a copy of Jacksons School Security Audit, a self completion questionnaire which assists in a review of school perimeter security from the outside-in, please follow this link.
Please complete the form and either return it via email (addresses are included in the document) or post to:
School Security Audit