Lock the burglar out

23rd November 1995 at 00:00
Stephen Hoare looks at what can be done to stop the increase in school crime. Crime is on the increase. Theft of costly electronic equipment, assaults on staff and arson attacks on buildings are now part of the accepted risk of managing a school. And many heads and governing bodies believe there is little they can do to guard against it, short of turning schools into mini-fortresses and spending a fortune on round-the-clock security.

But this view is challenged by Bradford local education authority which has published a self-help guide to help schools combat it. Bradford's approach is basic risk assessment - if schools know what it is they are trying to guard against then they can tailor their security accordingly. Reporting and monitoring problems - finding out how frequently certain types of incident occur and how much they are costing the school is the first step towards a solution.

Bradford conducted its own study and found that vandalism and theft was costing well over Pounds 1 million each year. Delegated under local management of schools, money spent on security and crime prevention means less is available for teaching. And crime also has hidden costs - the loss of pupils' work, anxiety felt by staff and pupils, and an administrative burden as senior staff and caretakers are diverted from their duties.

Bradford believes that the Pounds 49 million figure given by the Department for Education and Employment as the amount lost by LEA schools each year due to vandalism, theft and arson is a gross underestimate. A leading insurer claims the "real" costs of crime are eight times invoice costs.

Bradford's guide gives schools a framework within which to organise and to monitor their efforts. Before taking any action, the guide urges heads to consult staff, governors and the community. And the LEA recommends that schools should appoint a security consultant, preferably from within senior management - a teacher with time to co-ordinate activities and liaise with outside organisations.

Bradford's survey reveals that while all schools faced theft of personal possessions and vandalism, primary and secondary schools had differences in the types of crime. Theft of equipment poses a far greater problem for secondary schools where more extensive use of computer and electronic equipment presents a more tempting target. And personal attacks, though comparatively rare in both sectors, occurred in secondary schools from pupils assaulting staff and in primaries from estranged parents snatching children.

Committed to maintaining open access to the public, Bradford advises schools to adopt a single entry point and to set up a clearly signed reception area where callers can be received, signed in and be given identity badges. And for the protection of staff working in isolated places there should be panic buttons to summon help.

The guide also advises staff to be on the look-out for suspicious characters and the ploys they use, such as the "tailgaters" who follow authorised visitors through security barriers and bogus officials who can bluff their way into being handed equipment for "repair".

One general principle behind Bradford's guide is that the cost of security should not be greater than the value of what is being protected. Thus costly computer equipment can be etched with the school name and post code, easily recognisable items can be photographed and kept on record.

Out of hours, security is even more important. Isolated from nearby buildings and often unoccupied at night or during holidays, schools present an easy target.

But how much should you spend when it comes to protecting the entire building against theft or arson? Once again, the Bradford guide has some simple, cost-effective measures. Small accessible windows should be fitted with bars, and letter boxes should be backed by a fire-proof container. One of the most common types of arson is pouring flammable liquids through the letter box.

Many forms of security equipment, such as closed circuit cameras and electronic intruder alarms, act to deter rather than catch thieves.

Advice should be sought from the police and the LEA, many of which offer grants to cover major capital costs. Alarm systems, for example, should be approved by the National Approved Council for Security Systems - and police should be given the names of at least two key holders who can switch the alarm off.

Police commonly complain that more than 90 per cent of alarm calls are false, and even the most robust and reliable electronic sensor equipment can be triggered by changes in temperature or the shadows of trees in high winds.

The good news is the cost of technology is falling, and advanced systems are available in which a camera is triggered at the same time as the alarm to provide verification of a break-in and evidence which could be used in court. The camera images can also be monitored by outside security firms via phone lines. In such cases, a rapid response could mean the difference between a minor incident and a major catastrophe.

Schools Security a Practical Guide for Schools is published by Bradford Education, Pounds 10 including p p. From the Buildings Service, Flockton House, Flockton Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD47RY telephone: O1274 7S17SO


General policy

* Are your monitoring systems capable of identifying costs of vandalism, arson, burglary, or theft?

* Is there a method of recording potential problems?

* Is crime prevention and security included in the curriculum?

* Does the school work with the community on a "school watch" type scheme?


* Are your staff offered training on security awareness?

* Is there a procedure for staff and pupils to report the presence of strangers?

Disaster management

* Is there a list of contact telephone numbers held by members of a school "incident team" to allow rapid response to major incidents?

* Are the emergency services aware of who to contact in an emergency?

Risk minimisation

* Is there a plan to check that all internal fire doors are closed at the end of each day?

* Is there a procedure for checking that premises are secured at the end of each day?

Security outside normal hours

* Has the governing body agreed a policy on the use of the school site outside normal hours?

Security during normal working hours

* Are visitors clearly directed to a reception area?

* Is entry restricted to a single point?

Key control and locking up

* Is the issue of keys to external doors controlled and limited?

* Is there a procedure for checking that buildings are vacated before the premises are locked?


* Are valuables locked in secure storerooms at night?

* Are valuable items secured to workstations, desks, walls etc?

Contractors on site

* Do all contractors report to reception before starting work?

* Does a member of staff act as school contractor liaison officer?

Personal safety

* Have precautions been taken to protect staff working in isolated areas?

* Are there plans on where, and how to conduct interviews with disturbed visitors or pupils?

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