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How schools are fighting the vandals

The Dunblane massacre may have concentrated minds on school security but thoughts were turning to the issue long before the tragic events of last March.

St Machar primary in Aberdeen is a prime, if fortunate, beneficiary of a renewed emphasis on design as a way of combating vandalism, which the Accounts Commission has identified as the main threat.

The school, which serves 200 pupils from a deprived area of the city and houses a community education centre, was rebuilt and pupils came back in May after two years to find 14 closed-circuit cameras with security lights. Entry is through a single door by the reception area and visitors can be seen approaching from inside the school office. Another control system guards the nursery.

"It was deliberately designed that way," Margaret Marr, the headteacher, says. "The old building didn't have any of these features. Indeed, it didn't even have a main door." Broken windows were costing Pounds 8,000-Pounds 10,000 a year.

Classrooms have a Chubb alarm system. A pager-type button linked to a box on the ceiling, rather like a smoke detector, can be activated to warn of an intruder. Miss Marr admits staff had doubts about fortress-type measures. "But the parents have accepted them very well and so have the pupils. We don't feel access has been affected in any way."

The cost of securing St Machar is put at between Pounds 40,000-Pounds 45, 000 and Miss Marr says: "The system pays for itself in every sense. Since we moved back in May, we have had just one broken window. We also use the cameras to keep an eye on children's behaviour in the playground."

This wider welfare and safety aspect of security has prompted Kirkton High in Dundee to set up a pupil council to look at conditions in the school more generally. The council has been examining a range of improvements, including the design of murals on corridor walls to cut out graffiti, devising a community safety calendar and raising money to improve the social areas in the school.

"It is a recognition by the pupils that they have got responsibilities in the community and that they should be involved in coming up with proposals and solutions," George Laidlaw, Kirkton's headteacher, says.

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