It's so green but soulless;School Management;The Sweeney

21st May 1999 at 01:00
The village of Duddingston, in which Holy Rood High school is situated, has records dating back to the 12th century, when Dodin de Dodinestoun obtained the land from the monks who owned it.

The school nestles on the edge of a conservation village, in the shadow of Arthur's Seat, on the edge of Holyrood Park. Duddingston playing fields provide an expansive apron of green on the east side, and the millennium forest project has provided thousands of hardwood saplings, which geography teacher Geraldine Kelly and her Green Team have helped to plant.

Following Dunblane, where the peace and tranquillity of a school became the target of a gunman's paranoia, the vulnerability of schools and the people within them has become a national fixation. The conclusions of the Cullen enquiry charged councils with ensuring the safety of pupils and staff. The City of Edinburgh council required each school to produce a security plan, and these have already been partially implemented.

When I go to our primary schools, I have to identify myself via the crackling entryphone. This appears to work, but the coming and going of callers throughout the day must be demanding on the hard-pressed office staff.

Holy Rood's security plan included closed-circuit cameras, security fences, entry systems, steel window shutters and locking mechanisms. Work to date has been managed sensitively, but it is difficult to disguise 15 foot high wrought-iron fences and gates. These will eventually be screened by trees and shrubs, but their robust and towering stature indicates that the education authority means business.

Registration of visitors can be time-consuming, especially when they arrive in batches of 20 and 30. A headteachers' meeting can create a queue of visitors at the office in search of entry visas. Contractors can be difficult to police, particularly when it takes 14 plumbers to fix the toilet.

Our verdant campus is an inviting prospect for curious passers-by, innocent short-cut takers and pestiferous dog-walkers, who wander on to school property.

Closed circuit television cameras have not yet been installed, but they are on the way. While they will be a useful deterrent, their ability to detect malefactors will be limited by resources available to monitor what they observe. The pupils are convinced that the cameras are being installed to keep an eye on them. The rumour of four observation towers being erected to house the searchlights has tended to confirm this belief. It may be that we will need cameras to watch over the cameras, since one school had its newly installed security cameras stolen.

The intrusion of this soulless hardware on the green expanses of Duddingston is a price that has to be paid for the safety of pupils and staff. We demand protection but resent the inconvenience that security measures entail. Schools can never be totally impenetrable while they are in communities, and encourage learning beyond the confines of the school.

I am reassured by the measures adopted for the protection of Holy Rood, but I'm glad that Dodin de Dodinestoun cannot see the fences.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh.

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