Addressing security in the education sector

Security in schools is a complex issue. With no formal strategy in place for English schools, Stuart Naisbett of IPSA discusses the difficulties security poses and how best to initiate security policy.

The provision of security personnel to schools still remains a difficult subject to address. However, with the exception of the public school sector, many still have to rely mainly on what is termed within the security industry as ‘physical security’ gates, fences, and turnstiles usually supported by some means of electronic security equipment – such as access control and intruder alarm systems. These are usually applied to nursery, infant and primary schools where the emphasis is on preventing intruders from entering the premises either during school hours or in the case of alarm systems out of hours.

As we are all aware, educational establishments at primary and secondary school level rely on funding from the local education authority and in times where austerity budgets are tight, as should be expected with what little additional funds there are, funding is better put to use providing teaching aids to enhance the students learning rather than providing for their security. In colleges and universities the security of the students is mainly funded from the fees charged to attend courses.

Since my last article for Education Business, there has been no further research into ‘security within the education sector’ and we still see that, despite the issues raised following the stabbings in the 1990s and other major incidents, such as the death of a well‑loved teacher in Leeds, and the stabbing of a teacher in Bradford, there is still no formal strategy with costs being the biggest issue.

Much of what is discussed following an incident is a ‘knee jerk reaction’ and in no way remains in place for any length of time, as the event often becomes lost in memory. Much of what is currently provided to schools as security is reactive, not proactive. This can be alarms that activate when there is an issue and are responded to, staff carrying out patrols of school grounds when an intruder has been spotted, fences that are built and gates that are secured, to prevent unauthorised access, and keep the children and staff secure.

As evident in recent events, the actual risk has been from within, and by students not intruders. The biggest issues facing schools at this moment in time are knife crime, gun crime and radicalisation of students. Of the three, the easiest to combat is possibly radicalisation, as to prevent incidents involving guns and knives requires the assistance and co-operation of the pupils and staff. The right to search in the UK is only permissible with the consent of the person being searched, and would require a number of factors to be taken into account, such as a private room for the search to be carried out, the additional costs of security personnel to carry out the search and procedures in place to take action should the need arise.

What can be done?
In the first instance, we should develop a school security policy that identifies the risks and puts controls in place to minimise the danger to staff, pupils and visitors. We should also set budgets to help prevent security and safety breaches, and educate staff to be ‘security aware’.

Local authorities may be able to supply a specimen school security policy; alternatively you may be able to obtain examples from other schools or by searching the internet, however be wary of copied documents in case they have overlooked important aspects of the policy and implementation.

As security measures tend to be costly, it is important to get recognition from the governing body who should recognise that they are required not only to support the school with a policy, but also to allocate sufficient financial support to introduce agreed security measures.

The security policy will also require the understanding and support of all school staff and pupils. Every person in the school should understand their role in maintaining security, whether this is the importance of ensuring any access points are kept secure, or what they are expected to do if they notice a possible breach, e.g. procedure if seeing an unknown person.

The use of physical security
Schools, by their nature, are difficult to secure. There are often multiple buildings – each with a number of access points, open areas between buildings, yard areas for the pupils to use at break times, and external sports facilities. The selection of any perimeter security measures is selected, not just for the level of protection offered and the inevitable cost factor, but also to meet any local planning regulations, taking into consideration the opinions of local residents and any existing factors with neighbouring premises and land which could assist in the perimeter being breached, whilst maintaining a welcoming appearance for the school.

Whilst the aesthetics are an important consideration for schools, it is important to also ensure that any selected perimeter security measures achieve their objective. The secure perimeter will include one or more access routes which are in use throughout the times the school is open, normally the main entrance and possibly a separate route for deliveries, and possibly some access routes used only at certain times of day, e.g. the time immediately before and after the normal school day.

There are two separate considerations with points of access: persons permitted as routine into the premises (students and staff members) and preventing or controlling access to the premises by other persons, (visitors). There should be a designated and sign posted entrance, normally the main entrance, for visitors to use. Visitors, including parents, local authority employees, contractors, etc., would be required to sign in at the main entrance and would only be permitted access to the premises once it has been established that they are expected or being met by a staff member.

For this to provide a secure environment, other entrances need to have a form of access control to prevent any unobserved entry. However, frequently these points of entry are not secure due to being left as uncontrolled access at certain times of day or wedged open when they should be secured meaning that persons are allowed in unchallenged (tailgating).

If any entrance is to be used to allow unrestricted access at any point, it must be monitored by a member of staff. At other times it is by an understanding of the security policy that staff and pupils will ensure that external doors are kept secure.

The human threat
Each school should do a risk assessment of the likelihood of a pupil, or any other legitimate visitor to the school, carrying a weapon and set their procedures accordingly. Considerations include the age of pupils, the areas that pupils live in, and local knowledge such as the presence of youth gangs. Where the risk is high, schools could consider random searches or even the use of metal detector arches. Search procedures should be in place to ensure everybody is aware of what is expected, and should include consideration for the safety of the persons conducting searches in the event of the discovery or suspicion that a pupil is carrying a weapon.

The majority of access control is based on stopping either an opportunist thief from entering the premises, or controlling a potentially aggressive visitor from unrestricted access to the premises. The likelihood of a heavily armed person entering the school is lower in the UK than in some countries, however it is not unfortunately impossible. This means that the level of investment on protection is based upon the more probable scenarios, however it is always worth at least having written procedures and guidance in place for staff detailing their safe emergency routes and methods of raising the alarm.

Out of hours threat
Again, this should be based on a risk assessment considering factors such as history of occurrences and the surrounding area. Depending on the assessed level of risk, the school should put in appropriate measures, which as a minimum should be a deterrent such as a remote monitored intruder alarm. For higher levels of risk there are plenty of additional security measures available, such as remote monitored CCTV, ‘SmokeCloak’, security patrols, and permanent security on site.

I would like to leave you with this thought. If the definition of ‘security’ is the state of being secure, freedom from risk, anxiety or fear, anything that gives or assures safety, how do you feel about where you work, and what do you think you can do to change it?

Stuart Naisbett has been employed within the security industry for over 39 years and in that time has provided security services to schools and colleges. He has also run a distance learning college for security managers, and been a member of the International Professional Security Association for over 25 years, and currently holds the post of International Chairman.

The International Professional Security Association is a membership body for companies and individuals working in the security industry. Member companies are required to demonstrate compliance with British Standards for the security industry.

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