Fortress mentality no answer, says Cullen

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Panic buttons and personal alarms for teachers may be necessary if schools are to become safer places for children, Lord Cullen said in his report into the Dunblane tragedy published this week.

But, as the Government banned all pistols and revolvers above .22 calibre, including those of the sort used by Thomas Hamilton to murder 16 children and their teacher Gwen Mayor last March, he urged that schools should not be turned into fortresses. "Whatever measures are to be taken it is unrealistic to expect that the risk of a violent intruder gaining access to a school can be eliminated."

The ban goes beyond the 28 recommendations contained in Lord Cullen's 174-page report. However, ministers backed his call for schools to prepare strategies to protect pupils and teachers against violence. They also agreed to new vetting and supervision arrangements for adults working with children and young people. Clubs for the under-16s will have to be accredited to a voluntary national body and a new Scottish vocational qualification for those who work with children has been proposed.

Lord Cullen said there was no blanket approach to improving security: "What would be appropriate for an inner-city school of 700 pupils would be unlikely to be suitable for an isolated rural school."

Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth immediately announced a grant to assist school security north of the border. But he gave no indication of the amount. His action is in line with the Government pledge to provide extra money over several years for schools in England and Wales following the murder of London head Philip Lawrence.

The money for England and Wales - again no figure has been announced - will come through next year's Grants for Education Support and Training programme. The Government provides 60 per cent of the cash and expects local authorities to find the rest.

In Scotland, which does not have a GEST scheme, councils fear that the cost of stepping up security could be as much as Pounds 12 million.

Lord Cullen said that to many people schools were welcoming places. "It would be unacceptable to carry measures to the point where schools were turned into fortresses. At some point a balance has to be struck."

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