Fear that stays locked inside

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Michael Prestage on security measures at the Wolverhampton primary that suffered a machete attack. New security fences were still being installed this week at St Luke's Church of England (aided) School, Wolverhampton, where a machete-wielding attacker injured three children, three parents and nursery assistant Lisa Potts last July.

The effects of that incident, when a teddy bears' picnic for the school's nursery class was so violently interrupted, are still being felt.

In an exclusive interview, head Denise Bennett and vice-chair of governors, the Rev Tim Anderson, have talked of the changes the attack has brought to the school and how, post-Dunblane, St Luke's has taken its place at the forefront of the debate on school security.

St Luke's is now a blueprint for security measures. The Wolverhampton education authority, the local diocese and local businesses have responded to the attack by giving the 142-pupil school state-of-the-art protection.

There is closed-circuit television, panic alarms for staff, a single locked entrance, digital locks on all doors and nine-foot fencing on perimeters and around play areas. Trees and bushes that could provide cover for intruders have been cut back and a sophisticated alarm system has been installed.

While some parents opted to move their children from the school in the deprived area of Blakenhall, others have stayed and are attempting to rebuild the confidence of all involved in the incident.

During the summer break, staff were on hand to reassure parents. The last week of term after the incident was important to bring the school together. A sign remains on entrances to the school advising any parents with concerns about the attack to ring a number provided.

Mr Anderson said: "There has been a very considerable change of outlook and many additions to the security of the school, but we have avoided making it look like a fortress. We want all the security necessary, but in a sensible way. We want to reassure parents of the safety of their children while here and ensure the well-being of staff."

With government plans for restrictions on knives and the recent House of Commons vote on outlawing all except small calibre firearms, the school has sought to keep out of the debate on making schools safe.

"A lot of money was raised by the community, including several thousands of pounds at a fun day," said Mrs Bennett. "After the incident, parents were asked what security they wanted to see here and we responded to their wishes. "

She said many of the measures, such as a single, monitored means of access, could be done without spending too much money. In fact, the school had a programme of security measures drawn up for implementation that pre-dated Dunblane, let alone the attack on the school.

The LEA had begun a security initiative in January last year and asked schools to identify what needed to be done in conjunction with local police crime prevention officers. A spate of break-ins had persuaded St Luke's that something extra was needed.

"In our last Office for Standards in Education report, we were praised for providing a safe and secure environment for the children," said Mrs Bennett. "Our plans to improve the security were already starting to move well forward. Like everybody else, we never thought such a thing could happen to us."

Mrs Bennett said children were still in need of reassurance and were asking: "Will that man come again?" When Ms Potts, who is still receiving occupational therapy for severe machete wounds on her hands, returned to the school on frequent visits, the children swapped experiences and those injured compared scars.

Ms Potts, 21, who shielded young children during the attack, praised the school for its support for everyone involved and the attempts of Mrs Bennett and fellow staff to try to get everything back to normal.

She said the most distressing part was seeing the children in hospital and with facial scars that would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

"I hope to go back full-time," she explained. "I don't know how long I will stay at the school, but I want to go back just to know that I can. That's going to be the really big hurdle. I went into the school recently and one child said, 'We've missed you so much Miss Potts', and that's what it is all about."

At a conference on school security last week, David Hawkins, chair of the LEA's school-security working party, said security to deal with everyday situations as well as exceptional incidents was being looked at.

He said Pounds 600,000 worth of security measures had already been identified by schools in the authority and all 130 schools were drawing up security development plans.

"Our funds to meet the cost are inadequate and we are awaiting the money promised by the Government for school security," said Mr Dawkins. "As an issue, security is near the forefront of the minds of all heads and governors. "

A man is awaiting trial charged with seven attempted murders following the incident at St Luke's.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today