Safety means no cash, a high fence and teacher patrols

7th March 2008 at 00:00
Elliot Bannister, 16, lines up, collects his vegetable lasagne and a drink, and touches his finger to an electronic scanner. The matchbox-sized device pulses red and his photograph flashes up on the checkout screen.

The introduction of cashless catering at Northampton School for Boys means pupils no longer need to worry about having their lunch money stolen in the playground or on their way to and from school, and food has little time to go cold on the trays in the lunch queues.

At the start of the year, Elliot's parents credited pound;50 to his account through the school website. Now he can pay for a school meal, or a trip, or a guitar lesson with the touch of his finger.

"It completely cuts out the hassle of bringing money to school," said Elliot.

"When they're carrying money, students feel more anxious and get hassled."

The cashless system, which is used by at least 80 other schools in England, is far from the only security measure at the 1,500-pupil comprehensive. The school has put up a high perimeter fence. It is not the most hi-tech device, but a Home Office report in 2006 said fences made a significantly greater difference to school security than closed circuit television cameras. A teacher patrols the streets outside the school during the lunch break, to reassure pupils and neighbours.

Parents can log on to the school website to see whether their son turned up at school that morning.

The school manages its own internet firewall, allowing it to control and monitor internet use and act immediately when, for example, a pupil posts footage of a so-called happy-slapping attack, as happened two years ago.

Links to drop-in centres and organisations such as ChildLine are posted on the same website, to save pupils the public embarrassment of noting down the telephone numbers from posters hanging in the school library.

While other schools have increased work with police and social services, Northampton School for Boys has less contact. Mike Griffiths, the headteacher, said that changing demographics was a factor - the school's intake is on average less deprived than it was. Teachers are also trained to spot trouble.

Mr Griffiths has been teaching for 33 years. "Since the early days of my teaching career, people have become aware of the things that can go on in young peoples' homes, and the physical and emotional signs to look out for."

Bob Carstairs, assistant general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, commended the school as a leader in child safety, rather than an innovator. "Schools don't want to innovate on school safety," he advised. "This is not an area for risk-taking."

Like many pupils across England, Elliot still does not feel completely secure on his way to and from school.

Recently, a pupil from another school stopped him and his friend and threatened them in a failed attempt to steal their bicycles. But Elliot no longer feels attending school itself is a risk.

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