Joan Sallis answers your questions

28th October 2005 at 01:00
We have quite a lot of thefts of valuable items from classrooms after hours. I am not talking about break-ins as there is no evidence of forced entry and our caretaker is very vigilant at night. The danger time is an hour or two after 4pm when, because of clubs, cleaning and rehearsals, there are people in school and one or more doors will be open. It is a large site with access from a number of points. Sometimes teachers are not sufficiently careful about school property and do not always realise that these losses have to be made good from our school budget. Often no effort has been made to safeguard even things of a size which can be locked away.

Don't refer to insurance - what hope is there of compensation when the items are there for the taking and no question of forced entry?

Three things make it worse - the high value of some equipment, the very welcome increase in out-of-school activity, and the long time it takes for basic changes in responsibility to sink in. In mentioning the last point I am thinking of the changeover to local management of schools, for even though this has been with us for 17 years, the assumption that the local authority will make good any losses dies hard and some schools may have to emphasise that, in the end, loss of valuables affects the children directly.

I think it is well worthwhile having this on the agenda where there is a problem. It may help just to remind teachers that the school pays in most cases of this kind and that this is our own money. It isn't always practical, as you imply, for a caretaker to check round everywhere at the variable endings of the day in a school where you don't lock all the doors at a given time or where there are several entrances, though it may be possible to reduce the number of entrances used after that time. But you can at least make it clear that a teacher in the last lesson should check that at least no valuable item is standing, inviting theft within sight of lockable storage. And you can consider whether any more lockable storage can be provided - athough I know there are now some valuable large pieces of equipment becoming standard where this is not practicable.

In a secondary school you may then have to face the question, where an item is clearly the responsibility of a particular department and could have been locked up, whether to take the replacement cost out of that department's budget. I don't myself think we should, because it might mean only children would suffer. It might not be a bad gesture in that direction, though, to arrange for the departmental head to report the loss to the appropriate governors' committee. I do not mean to suggest that governors should become heavy with teachers, but a bit more vigilance may be possible without hardship.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expertwhere answers will appear

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