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How to ensure schools play it safe

Cris Francis, Security Consultant at Jacksons Fencing, has five key suggestions for smartly securing school perimeters

Posted by Julian Owen | September 05, 2018 | Security & safety

Every day, the UK’s schools – all 24,281 of them in England, 5,027 in Scotland and 1,617 in Wales – become second homes to more than 10 million children. In these educational facilities, curious minds are expanded, life-long friendships are forged and the career choices of future leaders start to take shape.

Like all homes, good security is paramount. It’s no surprise parents all want the schools in their local area to not only be places of learning, but of safety and security, too. Since the 1880 Education Act (when compulsory education was enshrined for all until the age of 10), parents have wanted assurances that, when they leave their offspring in the morning, they’ll be kept safe.

To gauge exactly how parents, teachers and those responsible for perimeter solutions view school security, we commissioned research for a special report, ‘Protecting the Future’. We polled 1,000 parents (a nationally representative sample) and asked them about a range of issues around school security. These were joined by the views of more than 280 teachers (including nearly 50 heads) and 75 architects.

For an overwhelming number of head teachers we surveyed (75%), pupil safety is a responsibility they believe rests squarely on their shoulders. Their main concern is pupils getting out (30%), in contrast to parents, who are most worried about people getting in. Whether keeping people in or out, head teachers’ responsibility to keep students safe is only getting weightier. Increasingly, schools no longer serve just children. They are also vital community hubs, from the partnerships they strike with local businesses to the relationships they form with charities, non-profit foundations and civic organisations. But it’s a hard balancing act to strike.

Our research finds head teachers under pressure to make their schools simultaneously accessible and secure. There is a battle being waged between heads and parents – and it doesn’t always make sense. There is simultaneously concern that schools allow too-easy access (something parents want action on) and also take security too far (nearly a third of parent respondents – 31% – already think schools are like prisons).

Send in the architects

What’s interesting from this research is that architects concur with teachers and parents in that they, too, view multiple entrances to schools as a challenge (a massive 90% say this is a problem). This is even greater than that of ageing existing perimeter solutions.

We find that architects could benefit from brushing up on the latest standards. Barely half (53%) say they are familiar with the LPS 1175 standard, the rating system that rates products on how long they can withstand a sustained attack with different classes of tools.

Only one third of architects are seeing both Secured by Design and LPS 1175 standards specified, meaning there is a lost opportunity for architects to propose solutions that meet security concerns without fortressing schools in the process.

This suggests that architects should play more of an advisory role in challenging heads about what they think they need. This is all the more prescient as architects also say 71% of the refurbishment specifications they are supplied with are for them to simply repeat what’s already there. Given that the greatest perimeter issues identified by parents and teachers are low fence heights and gaps, architects should arguably be proposing more risk-appropriate alternatives.

Cris Francis

Boundary protection 

Whether renewing, refurbishing or building from new, the school fence, entrance gates and access control should be carefully considered for today and in anticipation of the future. A perimeter should provide a realistic and appropriate level of physical security, commensurate with the risks it could face while either making a bold design statement or blending into its environment.

Performing a thorough risk assessment is an essential part of putting together a robust and appropriate perimeter security strategy. Here are our top five areas to consider when evaluating the security of a school site:

1. Access points: Access control is a valuable part of any school’s security strategy, helping you to keep track of who is onsite - and where - at any given time. Over half of teachers say their school has more than one entrance (56%). Access points, however, should be limited in number, with one main point located in view of the reception or school office, to allow school staff to monitor pupil movement patterns and vehicle access.

2. Type of risk: Criminal damage is a problem at 28% of schools, according to teachers. This is part of a range of risks, from theft and vandalism to arson and anti-social behaviour. Discuss with your staff the possible threats to your school site. Thieves sometimes target public buildings for their materials. Other risks can include heavy traffic or equipment, and fencing appearing as an incidental climbing frame for young pupils.

3. Aesthetics: For a school, the balance between deterring potential intruders and welcoming students and visitors is vital. Creative use of colour can soften a perimeter’s appearance. While metal railings may be suitable for some schools, nurseries and primary schools may benefit more from timber fencing, which still provides security but with a friendlier appearance and greater privacy.

4. Usage: Your school site will probably experience heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic at peak times of day. Think about creating separate traffic routes for pedestrians and cars to ensure safety during these busy times, and discuss how your site security should be managed during off-peak times.

5. Local environment: It’s important to take a good look at the landscape around your site. For instance, are the foundations firm enough for fences, gates and barriers to sit effectively? A significant 36% of parents know of children leaving the school site by climbing over the perimeter. Are there any potential climbing aids, such as overhanging branches, parked vehicles or storage bins that need to be borne in mind?

For more on Jacksons Fencing, click here.

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