Anti-arson scheme is hailed a success
Fire safety specialists are celebrating a programme aimed at cutting arson attacks in schools.
More than #163;1m has been spent on security and community awareness schemes in dozens of primary and secondary schools, including commissioning CCTV cameras, fencing and secure rubbish stores.
Nick Dodd, Wales arson reduction co-ordinator with Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said the programme, which was set up by the Assembly government in 2007, was proving successful.
"We evaluated 47 schools that took part in the first year and found quite startling improvements," he said. "We had a massive fall in small-fire setting, criminal damage, burglary and antisocial behaviour."
Arson attacks on schools, such as the fire that destroyed Rogerstone Primary School in Newport, Gwent, in 2003 (pictured), are not uncommon. There have been over 120 in the last two years in Wales alone. But schools receiving specialist funding reported an average 89 per cent decline in criminal incidents, while several experienced none in that time.
Arson reduction teams looked at ways of making individual schools less appealing targets for opportunists.
Mr Dodd said: "On the older sites there are bolt-on buildings that can make security tricky. We look at things like how the site is managed, putting up fencing and CCTV. You can also enhance security by cutting down trees or trimming them so there is space on the bottom and people can't hide underneath."
Arson reduction officers have also been involved in the design of new school buildings.
Mr Dodd said recent changes in education policy, such as the play-led foundation phase and community-focused schools, had caused security issues.
He added: "You need to strike a balance between safety and learning. Outdoor learning can create fantastic places to hide, so we ask schools to think carefully about where to put outdoor structures such as sheds. It sounds complicated but it can be done."
Dodd also urged teachers to report any incidents of out-of-hours antisocial behaviour or crime they were aware of, however trivial.
"We can only deal with what we know about," he said. "We want schools to recognise the signs before anything serious happens. If, when you come in on Monday morning, you find smoking materials or the remnants of alcohol, you should report it."
The Assembly government has pledged another #163;400,000 for the final year of the programme.