As the signal sounds, pupils are confined to their classrooms. Doors and curtains are shut, and staff sweep the school for stray pupils, taking them to a nearby secure base.
This is a school practising its lockdown drill – for a situation it hopes never arises.
News of shootings in the US prompted Binks Neate-Evans, head of West Earlham Infant School in Norwich, to turn to Twitter and search for articles about events across the Atlantic to research and introduce a lockdown procedure.
It is, she says, an issue that “comes up informally in conversations” among headteachers. The Norfolk Primary Headteachers’ Association, which she chairs, will look at how schools can work together on such preparations. For her, it is important to explain any lockdown drills to pupils in language that they can understand, without alarming them.
“We talk to the children about keeping yourselves safe: ‘If something goes wrong outside our school that makes you worried, we need to make sure that we can keep you safe, and we will be practising it.’ We are always very clear that we are practising and it’s so if something does happen, we know what to do.” Staff are also careful to tell the children that the events that could trigger a lockdown are “very unusual, and hardly ever happen”, without giving specific examples.
“I think giving young children, in particular, a strong image can cause greater anxiety. I would give them the message that if something goes wrong, there are adults in school who know what to do, and you have got to listen to the adults.”
For Neate-Evans, the range of scenarios that could spark a lockdown is so wide that the important thing is to establish key principles, such as understanding what the signal is and how staff communicate.
And after carrying out a drill, the school lets parents and carers know that it has happened. “What we don’t want to do is to have parents being alarmed and coming to the building. We did it, and then explained to parents about it,” the headteacher adds.
“You will always get disagreement about whether you should or shouldn’t [hold a drill]. In the main, if the community trusts you, they will trust that you are doing it for the right reasons.”