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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 Local Education Authority 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.

Schools, Colleges and Universities are constant hives of activity, with the number of people visiting their sites throughout the day ranging from hundreds to thousands of people. However, with so many people to keep track of and a large amount of high value property, belongings and personal data on site it can be a challenge to stay secure.

This article looks at some of the common risks faced by educational sites and explores some of the methods and steps that can be taken to make them more secure.

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 a major provider of insurance to schools, fires and arson attacks on schools amounted to a staggering £53 million in 2016. Most recently, the excessive 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.

Threats to Educational Facilities

The threat of crime is very real to schools, colleges and universities throughout the UK and the effects can sometimes be devastating. The cost of replacing stolen equipment and repairing physical damage which can occur because of crimes like theft, arson and criminal damage can have a significant impact on a school’s budget and mean that they have less money to spend on improvements to facilities, equipment and personnel. There are also the non-financial costs to consider, such as damage to an institution’s reputation, fear of safety among staff, parents and students and the significant disruption to learning that can occur because of a serious crime.

Every educational site is different and therefore both the threats to security and the level of response that is needed will vary accordingly. However, when it comes to theft, vandalism and criminal damage, some of the most common types of crime that occur within these facilities, all educational sites need to be vigilant and well prepared.

Theft

Educational sites such as schools, colleges and universities are highly attractive to thieves. Not only can opportunistic criminals easily blend in with students, staff and visitors but should they gain access they will often have a complete range of high-value equipment such as computers, cameras, televisions, scanners, stereo equipment, projectors and other expensive electrical goods at their fingertips.

There is also the risk of personal theft; many students and staff alike will choose to leave vehicles such as cars, motorcycles, mopeds and cycles on site, all of which can be targeted by criminals if proper safety protocols are not put in place. They might also leave personal items unattended such as electrical equipment, mobile phones or purses and wallets which could be taken by opportunistic thieves.

Additionally, there is also the risk of identity theft of data to consider, which could be achieved through physical means like searching through discarded documents in bins or through means of a cyber breach by gaining unauthorised access to computer networks or through email phishing scams. 

Criminal Damage

criminal damage

Vandalism, deliberate damage and arson are also very real threats to educational sites and could be carried out by both visitors to the site and students. This could be anything from broken windows and graffiti of bathroom areas to serious arson and destruction of property. An unfortunate result of such actions is that in many cases money which has been earmarked for improving facilities must be used for the maintenance and repair of damaged items and property instead. These types of crimes could be carried out by students, or equally by outsiders if security is poor and access is easily gained to the site.

Assault

Another worrying form of crime that can and does occur in educational facilities is assault. This can include violent crime such as common assault, grievous bodily harm and sexual offences. Assault can occur in different ways and could be perpetrated by visitors, staff, students or people from outside the site. From 2012 – 2015 an estimated 5,500 alleged sex crimes were reported in UK schools and an average of 878 children were removed from classes for abuse or assault on fellow pupils and teachers every day. The statistics from 2016 have not been published yet but police stats have been released showing a significant rise in sex attacks & anti-social-behaviour.

Combating Crime in Educational Facilities

Providing a safe learning environment is the key obligation of any educational facility. However, to do this properly they must find effective solutions for preventing crime from taking place.

Reception Security

Reception areas often serve a dual purpose at educational facilities. Not only do they act as a meet and greet area for visitors but they also play a role as the first line of defence against criminal activities. A properly trained concierge will know that they can prevent crimes from outsiders by enforcing relatively simple systems such as ensuring that all visitors are signed in to reception and provided with a visible ID badge to be worn on their clothing always. This means that any unwanted visitors on site can be easily spotted by the absence of a visitor pass and it can reassure staff and students.

Perimeter Security

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 near 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 must 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. 

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.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Monitoring

The UK is the most covered country in the world with regards to CCTV cameras which is a great asset to the security services nationwide. From museums and football stadiums to hotels, airports and shopping centres CCTV cameras are one of the most popular ways of securing a site and schools, colleges and universities are no exception.

CCTV cameras are a powerful form of security as they can monitor individuals as they move around a building or site, recording them as they go. This footage can be live streamed and monitored by a trained operator looking out for signs of criminal activity and can later be used as evidence in court.

The visible presence of CCTV can have a powerful impact, reassuring students, staff, parents and visitors and acting as a deterrent to anyone who tries to commit a crime such as theft, assault or criminal damage.

Anti-Vandal Paint

Careless vandalism such as graffiti can be a serious problem for schools, colleges and universities, costing large amounts of money in repairs and projecting a negative image of the institution to the public. To combat vandalism, it is important to first highlight vulnerable areas and then to make sure that action is taken to secure them from further damage. This could be in the form of a CCTV camera, or other deterrents such as anti-vandal paint.

Security Tagging and Cable Locks

When it comes to high value products such as laptops, PCs, televisions, scanners, cameras and other goods, thieves are far less likely to steal something if they believe they will not be able to sell it on. One way to ensure they have no re-sale value is to make the name of the institution clearly visible on the product, either with a sticker, pen, or chemically bonded tag or security plate that cannot be easily removed.

Cable locks can also be effective in securing items that may be stolen easily such as TVs, PCs and accessories.

Cyber Security

In today’s age, computers and the internet play a huge role in education, allowing students and staff to conduct research, communication and create like never before. However, IT brings with it its own security risks.

Many schools, colleges and education facilities have gone ‘paperless’ in recent years which means that a vast amount of personal data is now stored online or on computer networks. While this reduces paper wastage and minimises the risk of data falling into the wrong hands there is still potential for risk and it is important that steps are taken to protect data. This can be achieved by making sure that data is backed-up and regularly encrypted. Anti-virus software must be kept up-to-date and that only approved individuals are given access to sensitive information such as medical records and personal details.

Vetting Staff

It is crucial in an educational environment that employers perform through background checks on members of staff before they are employed. The job market is highly competitive and many job seekers may lie about their work history and their qualifications. Although this alone can have damaging consequences, failing to check for criminal convictions and an employee’s right to work in the UK could have catastrophic results.

Manned Guarding and Patrolling

While CCTV monitoring can provide evidence of a crime taking place on an educational site, it cannot be solely relied upon. If for instance a criminal is spotted breaking into a site at night on CCTV then they can only be dealt with once the security company has been alerted and is able to respond and make their way to the site, in which time the criminal might have already made their escape.

With a Protective Security Officer on site 24/7 the time it takes to respond to an incident is vastly reduced and the presence of a uniformed officer may deter an individual from attempting to gain access at all.

Depending on the needs of the facility a manned guarding presence might also be required for facilities that have reduced a number of people on site after hours, as this is ideal for criminals looking to break in and steal from the facility under the cover of darkness.

Conclusion

Security at educational sites has to be managed properly and the balance must always be found between providing a safe place to educate and also maintaining a pleasant and positive atmosphere for everyone on site. This can be achieved by highlighting areas of weakness in a site’s security strategy and developing the safest and most practical solutions for each unique set of circumstances.

Atlas UK Security Services has extensive experience and in-depth understanding to meet special demands of the educational sector. Our Protective Security Officers are vetted and are vigilant but discreet to assist education establishments in striking a balance between an educational building that is welcoming but secure. For more information about Atlas UK Security Services for educational facilities, please visit www.atlasuksecurity.com or call 01935 474929

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