Barred but extremely vulnerable

6th June 1997 at 01:00
You cannot buy total safety for schools, says Phil Revell. But you can make wise choices in an expanding market

There's a school in the North of England that routinely quizzes visitors about which local football team they support. The visitors are given badges in their club colours. The children have been coached to spot badgeless visitors and ask the nearest teacher to find out which football team they support.

The scheme is a wonderful innovation in school security - because it involves the children without putting them in fear and because it reminds visitors that they are in a school - and that schools are different.

That difference isn't always appreciated by companies trying to sell security products to schools. Systems that work perfectly well in the business world can be totally unsuitable for the education sector. In the wake of the Dunblane tragedy, there has been a flurry of activity as schools have sought to enhance their security.

Kalamazoo can offer schools a comprehensive service, from security audit through to access systems and closed-circuit television. Its Sentinel visitor-management system is one of the most commonly used. Signing-in isn't just a security issue. The law requires organisations to protect the health and safety of visitors: knowing who is on the premises is the first step in that process.

Closed circuit television is one of the more expensive options a school can choose. A system for a medium-sized secondary school could cost between Pounds 20,000 to Pounds 30,000. Unfortunately, CCTV is also the route strewn with the most pitfalls: unreliable suppliers, hidden extras in the price and hardware that isn't up to the task.

Schools present real challenges to the video engineer: there can be outbuildings, multiple points of access, quadrangles and linkways. One school needed 16 camera points to cover the whole site. Old technology can produce a fuzzy unrecognisable image. Maintenance needs to be built into the costing from the outset. It would be worth investigating the possibilities of leasing rather than purchase.

Digital technology may offer schools the possibility of using CCTV to enhance the curriculum, by video-conferencing or by recording lessons. Digital cameras are smaller and can be linked to PC software. Such systems are beyond the budget of most schools, but it would be worth enquiring what offers companies are planning.

CCTV systems on their own are not effective against intruders, for the obvious reason that they record what has already happened. Schools will still need a system to control access.

A novel approach to this problem has been taken by RoBo-Technics of Surrey which has developed a system for primary schools and nurseries that can differentiate between adults and children. It is based on an entry mat which weighs the "footprint" of everyone crossing it. Teachers and approved adults have an access tag that allows them through; children are passed automatically, but unauthorised visitors activate a pager in the school office. The company is looking for a school to try out the system. Its director, Peter Dye, says: "We are very open to suggestions as to how the system could be modified or joined as a hybrid to other systems."

Swipe-cards offer an access system with possibilities which extend beyond security. Gti markets a system that will cost between Pounds 10,000 and Pounds 15,000 to install, but which has great versatility. Everyone in the school is given a card which they use to gain access to the building. Swipe-card readers can be placed next to entrances - one school uses turnstiles. The cards can also be used for internal access, for registration, library identification and for cashless catering in the dining room. If the school has a computer network, the cards can be used for logging on.

The same flexibility is offered by Global Security which makes an access system based on individual fingerprints. The Fingerscan system by Fujitsu has been installed at Carr Hill High School in Kirkham, Lancashire, where the security aspects of the scheme are regarded as secondary to the administrative benefits. As one teacher commented; "The beauty of this is that there is nothing to lose - you are hardly likely to forget to bring your finger to school."

These systems offer something more than security. But remember that none of these systems would have prevented the Dunblane attack or the murder of the London headteacher Philip Lawrence.

Schools need to look at the wider uses of the technology. After the machete attack on pupils at St Luke's infants school in Wolverhampton last July, the school issued personal alarms to its staff at a cost of Pounds 10,000. Cordless telephones offer a more flexible alternative - most have a range of about 150 metres. BT offers a cordless with a "buzzer" key that will alert the school switchboard. It also offers a cordless phone with range of 300 metres.

The advantage of the cordless telephone is that it has uses other than emergencies. Teachers may need to summon help for other reasons: first aid for an injured child perhaps. A telephone enables the caller to describe the problem in detail. When the teacher is off-site, a mobile telephone should be an essential item of equipment. Emergencies - from a minibus breakdown to a serious accident - are all alleviated by the ability to call for help instantly.

Proper security means thinking the unthinkable and no amount of hardware is a substitute for training staff. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust's training director, Sarah Stimpson, points out that: "Most aggression is going to come from those who have a right to be in the school - pupils and parents."

The right security options do not have to cost the earth. The local police crime prevention officer can offer schools valuable advice. One primary school has enhanced its security simply by removing the exterior handles on doors that open outwards. Schools are different and any security system should involve the children without making them afraid to come to school.


* Kalamazoo Security audits, sign-in systems, access control CCTV. Tel: 0121 411 3656 * Sensormatic CCTV systems. Tel: 01895 873000 * RoBo Technics Access systems. Tel: 01276 418232 * Global Security Fingerscan.Tel: 01753 554022 * BT Freephone 152 * TernHill Communications Mobile phones and two-way radios. Tel: 01630 638733 * Gti Swipe-card access systems.Tel: 01722 423232 * The Suzy Lamplugh Trust Training video and training network. Tel: 0181 392 1839Personal Safety for Schools by Diana Lamplugh and Barbara Pagen. Pounds 16.95 plus Pounds 1,50 post and packaging available from the trust


* The National Approval Council for Security Systems (NACOSS)helps schools looking to check the bona fides of companies selling security equipment. It is an independent body, formed in 1990, that scrutinises a firm's technical ability, business record, quality systems and administrative procedures.

* NACOSS is not a trade association; firms cannot simply pay a fee and become a member.

* Companies recognised by the council are inspected annually. NACOSS offers consumers a system of investigating and rectifying complaints.

* Not all the companies The TES contacted were members. One industry leader accepted that the council offered a means for the consumer to check quality, but argued that BSI standards offered the same guarantees and that you could still rely on reputation and customer recommendation.

* Nacoss 14 Cookham Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 8AJTel: 01628 37512

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