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Justin Freeman: "The use of CCTV in schools has increased rapidly in recent years as a positive measure to help prevent vandalism and enhance security"

Safety special: a lesson in school security

As schools welcome pupils back, Master Locksmiths Association offers advice for keeping schools secure

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 04, 2015 | Security & safety

Safety in schools is a highly emotive subject and one that is never far from the conscience of head teachers, facilities managers, governors and the Local Education Authority, who all have roles to play in the implementation of an effective school security strategy. 

Schools, like universities and hospitals, are classed as public buildings. They are complex buildings, with many escape routes and doors, which should operate properly and have the correct signage, emergency exit lighting and panic hardware on the doors.

The first question schools should ask themselves is: Who is responsible for making sure that all escape routes and hardware are fit for purpose in your building?

It is not necessarily the head teacher or Board of Governors. If, for instance, a caretaker places a padlock on an emergency exit door to stop children opening them and causing inconvenience by setting an alarm off, then he automatically becomes responsible if people could not use the exit in an emergency. 

It is important to establish who has responsibility for schools so that matters relating to security and overall safety management of such places may be addressed in a systematic and logical manner.

Door and window locks

The second most important piece of advice for schools is to ask a professional MLA-approved locksmith to carry out a security and safety assessment and advise you on suitable locks and fittings, as well as providing input from a safety point of view. Make sure all locks are correctly fitted and functioning, ensuring that they not only provide a good level of security, but also meet safety and insurance requirements. 

Emergency routes and exits must lead as directly as possible to a place of safety and, in the event of danger, it must be possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and as safely as possible. Emergency exits should not be confused with fire doors, which are designed to hold back fire away from emergency exits for a set amount of time. Adding additional locks to fire doors will compromise how the fire door performs and could lead to prosecution of the responsible person.

The number, distribution and dimensions of emergency routes and exits must be adequate with regard to the use, equipment and dimensions of the premises and the maximum number of people who may be present there at any one time. Emergency doors must also open in the direction of escape.

When I visit schools, and other public buildings, I frequently see they have been chained up or padlocked for the sole purpose of preventing children from creating a nuisance by opening them and setting the alarm off.

Escape doors are also vulnerable during break-ins so it is acceptable to have extra locks on them – as long as the person responsible for escape doors ensures that they are fully operational as escape doors when the building is occupied.

In accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, emergency doors must not be locked or fastened so that they cannot be easily and immediately opened by any person who may require to use them in an emergency.

These doors are massively important and can result in life or death situations. If they are bolted, deadlocked or chained and there is a tragedy, the person responsible for these doors could be prosecuted.

Windows should have locks and they should be operable by a key unless they are used as a means of escape.

Schools have to major on safety but then factor in the security. If schools are unsure they are addressing it properly, they must consult with an MLA-approved locksmith because they could be putting everybody at risk.


The use of CCTV in schools has increased rapidly in recent years as a positive measure to help prevent vandalism and enhance security.

CCTV systems are a great deterrent. Schools using CCTV state that after installation, incidents of poor and antisocial behaviour drop dramatically. If your school is unfortunate enough to be a target of crime, vandalism or antisocial behaviour, there will be a strong chance of detection if CCTV security is installed.


Ultimately the safety of pupils, staff and visitors is the highest priority for schools. In addition to this, schools face many additional issues including theft, trespass and vandalism as a result of unauthorised access.

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 can be restricted by the use of perimeter fencing. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the fence line is clear from overhanging branches, storage bins or vehicles that can act as a climbing aid.

All fencing and gates must comply with current quality and safety standards. Gate specifications should match the fencing and incorporate high quality locks and anti-lift hinges.

For more information and advice, visit

Justin Freeman is technical manager of the Master Locksmiths Association.    

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