Partnership is key to safer sites;Security;School Management

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Security is big business in schools these days. Security is big business in schools these days. Stephen Hoare looks at some of the systems that are locking out the intruders.

It has to be the most secure school in Britain. ADT College, Wandsworth, has installed a state-of-the-art security system costing pound;206,000. The lion's share of the bill was picked up by the city technology college's chief sponsor, ADT, which just happens to be one of Britain's biggest security firms.

Concern over schools security is running high. After a spate of serious incidents, including the Dunblane tragedy and the murder of London headteacher Philip Lawrence, the Government has allocated pound;20 million to local authorities from the Standards Fund, and pound;2 million to grant-maintained schools. A further pound;6 million has come through the New Deal for Schools.

The security companies have been quick to spot a market opportunity. Many are reporting increased business from schools, and others are developing products for schools. Mike Smith, managing director of security company Initial-Shorrocks, says: "We are seeing more schools coming forward with projects ranging from pound;10-15,000 for a large secondary down to pound;1,000 for a village primary." Global Security, which installs Fujitsu security products, is targeting schools for the first time. Managing director Anil Khosla says: "Our new Fingerscan system uses a computer which recognises pupils' fingerprints to operate an entry system. They may forget to bring their swipe card to school, but they never forget their fingers."

ADT College's pound;20,000 grant from the Department of Education to improve security enabled it to lever in a hefty private sector contribution. The way the 11-18 college spent its money illustrates the concerns behind the Government's new guidance paper, School Security: Dealing with Troublemakers. The college's priorities are to discourage unlawful trespass, ban weapons, and work more closely with the police in recording and reporting incidents.

Prospective intruders might be deterred by the college's 32-camera closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring system, which covers the entrances with night-vision infra red and keeps a watchful eye on vulnerable points within the school such as computer rooms. The police, too, will welcome the latest intruder and fire alarm technology system, which automatically routes incidents to a 24-hour monitoring station that is able to verify alarms and alert the emergency services only if an incident is confirmed.

Richard Perry, the college's financial director, jokes: "You could imagine you're in Ford open prison when you see the two CCTV cameras at the main gates. But walking around the school the security we have is fairly subtle. The kids hardly notice it's there." The local burglars do, however, and the college has suffered just one minor theft and a break-in in its six-year history - both of which happened before the new system was fitted at the end of last year.

The system has been tailor-made for the school. Access doors to the playground are on timers to open five minutes before and five minutes after break. Staff carry a key fob with a built-in microchip to unlock the main door and the door to the staff car park. And all staff and post-16 pupils (who do not wear uniform) wear ID badges. ADT justified the expense by treating the college as a demonstration site, showing the range of options open to schools and colleges.

Roman Road Primary in Blackburn has not been so lucky. It has just had its bid for pound;4,000 to put up new gates, a perimeter fence and a door entry system turned down. Headteacher Liz Fisher says: "The fence is just broken down, and the school secretary would like a locked front door and an entry phone system so that people can't just walk in off the streets."

Nevertheless, Roman Road Primary is in a better position than many of its neighbouring schools. Through a business partnership, another big security firm, Initial-Shorrocks, recently fitted the school with a subsidised intruder and smoke alarm system. The system even warns when windows are broken. Mrs Fisher says: "Our school is in the middle of a sink estate, and before the system was fitted we were getting three or four break-ins a month. Now we have that many in a year. And because of the monitoring service the police are tipped off and intruders are getting caught."

The first port of call for most schools will be their local authority, many of whose property services departments have set up programmes aimed at minimising risk to staff and reducing the cost of vandalism.

Hampshire has spent pound;300,000 on improving school security. In the past two years the money has come from GEST (grants for education, support and training). Peter Lidiard, property manager for Hampshire, says:

"Several hundred schools are benefiting in terms of new locks, fencing, lighting, security patrols or a combination of these. Security patrols are funded jointly between a centrally held budget and the schools themselves. But in all cases we look for a pay-back over five years in terms of cutting theft and vandalism."

One of Hampshire's priorities is improving the security of reception areas - making main doors visible from the school office, securing other entry points to the school, and providing signs to direct visitors to reception. It all makes it easier to identify people who should not be on the school site.

Where high-tech equipment needs to be fitted, Hampshire will go to an outside security company to design, install, maintain and monitor systems. This is because intruder alarms and the companies that fit them have to be checked and approved before they are accepted by insurance companies and the police.

The high number of false alarms on even new systems makes fitting electronic systems a precise art. Mike Smith, of Initial-Shorrocks, says:

"We have developed something called audio verification. Rather than just calling the police, the alarm system's sensors are fitted with microphones which can be interrogated to see what's happening. Calls go to our central monitoring station and we will call the police once we know there is a break-in."

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