School security - beyond a duty of care

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Security and safety in schools is a highly emotive subject and one which is never far from the conscience of the head teacher, facilities team, governing body and LEA who all have roles to play in the implementation of an effective school security strategy.  Blatant and violent breaches of security have catastrophic effects (we all remember Colorado, Osaka, Munich, Pennsylvania and closer to home Dunblane), and, whether you are a parent or teaching professional, the security of any school should always remain high on the agenda.  Through initiatives such as the Building Schools for the Future campaign, funding may be available for schools where security measures fail to deliver the required “duty of care” commensurate with the school / pupil relationship.

Be security savvy

Schools have a basic requirement to safely contain the children in their care during school hours, keeping them protected from unwanted intruders and away from any danger within the confines of the grounds.  After hours, the school also needs to “lock-down” to deter acts of vandalism, theft, concealment and even arson, according to Zurich (a major provider of insurance to schools) fires and arson attacks on schools amounted to a staggering £53 million in 2007. Most recently, the high cost of energy and growing demand for steel in developing countries is thought to be the catalyst behind an outbreak of steel thefts crimes, said to be costing the economy £360 million every year. Thieves across the county have been targeting public buildings, including schools, looking for valuable steel to scrap.

First steps to achieving a secure school

Physical perimeter security measures and effective access control are at the heart of any successful school security programme but creating a safe and secure school environment requires significant planning and key features need to be designed into the overall perimeter security architecture. 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, it is imperative that all factors are taken into consideration which might impact on the creation of a secure physical frontline defence.  For example, 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, at which point all visitors are vetted and their reason for wanting to gain entry qualified prior to being granted access to the site.  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.

Good neighbours

Security issues do not relate solely to maintaining the safety of teachers, pupils and visitors on the school site.  There is also a social responsibility to members of the public who live in close proximity to the school.  Noise pollution is often a consideration around schools both with road / rail noise entering the teaching environment and playground noise leaching into the neighbourhood. In these situations, the school needs to seek out a fencing solution that also offers noise reduction capabilities.  The aesthetic appeal of a school’s perimeter fencing and gates is also of importance when considering the local community and plays an influential role in attracting the right type of response from prospective parents / pupils.  A prison like approach to physical perimeter security provides an unwelcoming and uninspiring introduction to any school. The best solution is to seek out a climb and vandal resistant physical barrier but in an attractive and natural guise. Acoustic fencing may also be required to create a classroom conducive to fostering good listening skills, by helping to reduce the distraction of incoming ambient noise from neighbouring busy roads / railway lines or construction sites.

Play safe

All fencing / gate and access control solutions must be carefully considered to ensure they are compliant with the stringent safety regulations designed to minimise the risk of accidents.  In infant and junior schools and for play areas it is important to look for RoSPA approved and BS EN 1176 compliant products which have been tested for their ability to provide a safe fencing or gate solution, reducing the risk of puncture wounds or entrapment of limbs.  Schools selecting these products will significantly reduce the risk of public liability claims– an all-important consideration in today’s increasingly litigious society.

Sports’ fencing is a feature within most schools and investing in the right products will to ensure the continued safety of school pupils, but decision makers must also be seen to be adopting a responsible approach to ensure the best use of available funding.  There are now products on the market which are strong enough to allow sports webbing / mesh to remain in place safely all year round and include a top rail for added rigidity to ensure durability and safety for both users and the public.

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.  It is also worth considering the overall design of the area to incorporate the provision of bolt holes to prevent a person from being backed into a corner in bullying situations.  More and more schools are also providing “outside learning areas” within the grounds, which again impact on safety and security.  Care needs to be taken to ensure that the choice of timber decking and balustrade solutions required to achieve these valuable “external classrooms” serve to create a safe, comfortable enclosure for students.

Active safety

Schools should be aware of the new EU Machinery Directive 98/37/EC and 2006/42/EC which states that automated gates are classified as a machine, meaning that the whole structure (not just the automation equipment used) comprising of gates, openers and safety devices must be designed and installed to meet the defined safety standards.  Compliance with this directive is essential to avoid the risk of costly litigation in the event of an incident.

Responsible sourcing

Whilst safety and security will be of paramount importance to the school decision makers, of course they also have to factor in the need to make buying decisions which actively reduce the school’s carbon footprint and demonstrate best 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.  The sourcing of timber products which have been accredited by environmental chain-of-custody schemes such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) will enable the school to underpin its commitment to key environmental issues, so too will insisting that all steel fencing and gates are supplied with long service life guarantees to minimise the costs and additional environmental impact associated with unplanned, early replacement.

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act was first introduced in 2006 and is in rolling implementation.  The Act is designed to protect children and other vulnerable adults from harm or risk of harm by preventing those individuals who are deemed unsuitable from gaining access to them through their work.  The Soham murders are a chilling reminder of the necessity for such legislation. As a result all schools should ensure that any contractors who are involved in new installations / repairs / maintenance on site, are CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked and cleared, and are able to provide proof of clearance on arrival at the school premises.

When considering updating or reviewing perimeter and access control security measures, the recommended best practice would be to contact an established and reputable specialist security fencing and access solutions provider to request an audit of the perimeter given the operational requirements of the site.  It is also worth bearing in mind the need to factor in timing considerations - most schools will be keen to undertake any infrastructure work during the school holidays but these periods can become notoriously busy for contractors working in the public sector, so it pays to plan ahead.

Richard Jackson, Chief Executive, Jacksons Fencing

Further information on Jacksons school security solutions can be found at www. jacksons-security.co.uk

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