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Security becomes parents' problem

Clare Dean reports on the post-Dunblane climate at the Council for Local Education Authorities' annual conference. Cash earmarked for pupil treats is being spent on close circuit televisions and security systems as anxious parents demand action in the wake of the Dunblane tragedy and the machete attack at the Wolverhampton primary.

Money raised to provide children with luxuries is paying for security because schools do not want to wait until next year when government cash for protection systems will be allocated.

Parent-teacher and home-school associations are paying up to Pounds 90 a time for doors which only open outwards as well as forking out for CCTV. Sean Rogers, chair-elect of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Parents shouldn't be raising money for things like this - the Government should be paying. Money raised by parents is for luxuries not essentials."

The revelation comes just a week after the NCPTA disclosed that parents were propping up schools with multi-million-pound support - and paying an additional Pounds 1.2 billion for their children to take part in national curriculum-linked activities.

It follows hot on the heels of accusations from Wolverhampton - where three children and four adults were injured during an incident at St Luke's primary - that the Government has demonstrated a serious lack of urgency over funding school security measures.

And it comes amid serious worries among council leaders about the safety of children in the hundreds of schools with outside toilets and mobile classrooms.

Ministers have said they will make millions of pounds available for school security from next year, although local authorities will have to bid for it through the Grants for Education Training and Support programme. David Hawkins, chair of Wolverhampton's school security working party, set up before Dunblane and the attack at St Luke's primary, last week pressed schools minister Robin Squire to come up with cash now.

He said a survey of schools in the town had shown they needed to spend up to Pounds 1.5 million on better doors and locks, which schools have asked for in preference to high fences, uniformed guards or CCTV.

But, Mr Hawkins said: "We are a small authority. Across the country the Government could be looking at requests for hundreds of millions and ministers might well baulk at such a figure."

The Council for Local Education Authorities last week unanimously called on the Government to act more quickly and decisively to fund essential improvements in school security. Mr Hawkins said: "We know that we will never be able to stop the high-profile attacks on schools; what we are looking for is some help on the everyday aggression that schools face."

In Wolverhampton last year there was almost a 200 per cent increase in the number of attacks on teachers, with numbers rising from 87 to 257 in a year. The increase could in part have been due to staff being encouraged to report incidents, but nevertheless there has been an upward trend of disruptive behaviour nationally.

Nearly eight out of 10 assaults in Wolverhampton were against female staff and out of the 74 reports from infant schools, 35 were from one school alone. Of the 61 incidents in secondary schools, 28 were from one school. The problem appears to be concentrated in a small number of schools - 71 of the borough's 118 schools had no reported incidents.

Mr Squire said that although Wolverhampton may have assessed the needs of its schools, other authorities were not in the position to say what they needed. He told the CLEA that the Government expected to make a "substantial" amount of new money available for school security over several years.

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