Pagers to warn of terror attacks

21st November 2003 at 00:00
President Bush visit prompts central London police to launch emergency warning system for headteachers. Michael Shaw and Adi Bloom report

Headteachers in central London are to be issued with pagers to warn them of terrorist attacks and other emergencies under a plan revealed by police during George Bush's visit to Britain.

The American president's trip disrupted several schools in the capital and hundreds of pupils were expected to miss lessons yesterday to take part in protests.

St George's Hanover Square primary was forced to close for a day because it is close to the American embassy, which Mr Bush visited. School governors were concerned that security and traffic restrictions would prevent parents picking up pupils at the end of the day.

Six other schools in Westminster education authority could not get their hot lunches because the catering company feared road blocks would make deliveries difficult.

Lindsey Woodford, head of St Saviour's Church of England primary in Maida Vale, said heads in the borough were surprised at the level of disruption.

But she said they had been placated by a last-minute meeting with senior staff from the Metropolitan police. Police told heads that they would issue central London schools with pagers to warn them of future disruptive events and of terrorist attacks.

Mrs Woodford said: "All the heads at the meeting thought it was a really good idea. The system won't just be for events like the Bush visit, it will also be for protests, road closures, terrorist attacks - anything schools should be warned about.

"We are not living in the safe little world we thought we were."

A Metropolitan police spokesman said the pager system was being developed in response to growing concerns about terrorism in the capital but could not specify when it would be in place.

A similar approach is being piloted by the City of London police force with businesses and other organisations in the capital's financial centre.

As The TES went to press, pupils were co-ordinating collective classroom walk-outs, with many intending to join demonstrations in Trafalgar Square yesterday. Hannah Kuchler, 17, organised pupil action at Camden high school for girls, in north London, and for the activist group School Students Against the War.

She said: "The war in Iraq was the first awakening of consciousness among school students of our generation. We're still angry about it, and about Bush's role. This visit looks like a triumphant show by Britain and America."

Ivan Lewis, education junior minister, warned pupils that they could face disciplinary measures if they missed lessons to protest against Mr Bush.

His warning coincided with the launch of a three-week long national truancy sweep.

* Children have named the terror attacks on September 11 as the most violent event they have ever seen on television. Andrea Millwood-Hargrave, of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, interviewed several groups of children, aged between nine and 13, about their perceptions of on-screen violence. Her findings were presented this week during a discussion on violence in the media, hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Ms Millward-Hargrave also highlighted a strong need among children to see justice served. She said: "Justice, consequences and closure are important.

That's what September 11 has not given them. Osama bin Laden has not been caught. Saddam Hussein has not been killed. They don't feel safe."

International 20 Another voice 22 Friday magazine 4

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