Locks, stock and handbags

Gerald Haigh

Many school offices have lost handbags, tins of dinner money or handfuls of petty cash during the working day and many others will be fearing burglary over the summer holidays. Office areas are vulnerable to walk-in theft and sometimes, alas, to opportunistic pilfering by pupils. A small primary school is especially at risk when the secretary goes off to the other end of the school, leaving the front area unattended.

Whole-school security is a major topic, but there are, however, measures that can be taken in the office, and a few improvements in design that could be introduced over the summer holidays to make for a more secure return for the new term.

At Walton Junior, Peterborough, the office was moved near to the front entrance, and a "serving hatch" was installed, looking out on to the entrance hall itself. Many schools are installing these hatches. The job must be trusted to an approved builder. It is not, for example, a job for volunteers from the parent teachers' association, because it may involve knocking a hole in a load-bearing wall. For the same reason, costs vary to the point where it is difficult to generalise.

To support the reception hatch, some schools have a security pass system. Walton Junior's is very simple a visitor signs the book and receives a badge with the word "Visitor". This is handed back when the visitor leaves. Someone working on the site wears a "Contractor" badge. These are neat, and made on the school's own computer system. Any stranger in school with no badge can then be challenged.

Unattended offices should be locked. The best locks are British Standard five-lever mortice locks, and these ought to be fitted to all external doors and to any internal doors where security is important. The cost will be about Pounds 50 a door.

However, there are many occasions during the day when it is simply inconvenient to lock and unlock with a key, and the danger is that the room will simply be left open. The answer adopted in many schools is to fit each office with a digital door lock which is operated by tapping in an easily-changed four or six-figure code. These are not high-security devices, and may well be fitted to doors which already have mortice locks for overnight use. They are relatively expensive, at around Pounds 120 a door, but they are very convenient and offer real protection against casual theft.

Secretaries sometimes spend a lot of time worrying about keys issuing them, wondering where they are. The answer is to have a secure key cabinet. The best ones are, effectively, small safes. Keys are stored inside on numbered tags, so that it is easy to see where the gaps are. A cabinet for 50 keys will cost about Pounds 50.

ERA Security Products, a major supplier of locks and security systems (including digital locks and five-lever mortice locks) runs "Council Link", a service for the public sector with a specialist catalogue and a support and advice service. ERA is also working on an information pack specifically for school. The firm has a list of approved fitters of their products, all of them members of the Master Locksmiths' Association.

Gerald Haigh ERA Security Products, Straight Road, Short Heath, Willenhall, West Midlands WV12 5RA. Tel: 01922 710222

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