School security

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Did you know?

* The death of a 14-year-old Lincolnshire schoolboy is likely to prompt a Commons inquiry into school security

* It would be the first major inquiry since London head Philip Lawrence was fatally stabbed outside the gates of his London school in 1995

* Parent teacher associations say they now want metal detectors in schools, and the head of the Youth Justice Board says police officers should be stationed in all schools where pupils habitually carry knives

* The police have the same powers of arrest in and around schools as they have elsewhere

* Intruders who injure themselves on school property can sue

* Schools can ask local highway authorities to divert or close rights of way that cross their land to protect pupils and staff from violence

In December 1995 headteacher Philip Lawrence was fatally stabbed while trying to prevent a fight outside the gates of his London school. It was a shocking incident that immediately attracted a rash of media coverage about the encroachment of youth crime from the streets into schools.

Three weeks ago, school security was in the headlines again when a 14-year-old Lincolnshire schoolboy was stabbed to death in a corridor on his way to a lesson. A 15-year-old boy has been charged with his murder. In the days following the boy's death, the Commons education select committee met to discuss an inquiry to examine whether guidelines for dealing with violent situations affecting staff and pupils are effective; parent teacher associations demanded metal detectors in schools and Sir Charles Pollard, head of the Youth Justice Board - and a former chief constable of Thames Valley Police - said full-time officers should be stationed in schools where pupils habitually carry knives.

Philip Lawrence subsequently became a symbol of good citizenship, and the annual awards set up in his name for outstanding achievement in good citizenship by young people are now fully established and well known. Less well publicised, but perhaps equally important, was the Government's review of school security carried out in the wake of his death.

The working group on school security (WGSS) was set up by the then Education Secretary Gillian Shephard in 1996 "to identify good practice in maintaining and improving security in and around schools, including effective ways to handle incidents".

Members of the WGSS - which continues to meet three times a year and which teachers' leaders say should now meet urgently following the Lincolnshire tragedy - include government departments, all the main education-related unions, faith-based education bodies, the Local Government Association, the Health and Safety Executive, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation. Its first report, in May 1996, included 22 recommendations, and in 1997-98 the Department for Education and Skills made funding available to schools for improving their security and training staff.

What is school security?

Any matter that relates to or affects the safety of staff, pupils or visitors to schools, from protection of school buildings against break-ins, theft and vandalism, to measures that guard against trespassers; from violence and abuse from parents, to methods of dealing with serious crimes such as the possession and use of offensive weapons or drugs.

A DfES study published in April this year, School Security Concerns, found that local education authorities ranked "external" incidents, such as trespass, arson, vandalism and burglary, as higher security concerns than "internal" threats, with "intrusion" on to school premises, during and after school hours, the greatest concern of all.

While school security issues are most obviously about preventing and reducing crime in and around schools, especially physical crimes against pupils and staff, measures to deal with school security touch on a wide range of issues from health and safety to the use of CCTV and alarm systems, school lighting, fire safety, rights of way and relations with local police.

What does the Government say?

Most school security-related issues are subject to some form of central government legislation, guidance or ruling. Following the WGSS's report, for example, the law on possessing offensive weapons was strengthened and extended to schools. The DfES has also published guidance on school security matters, including improving school facilities, dealing with troublemakers and improving personal safety. Specific government bulletins cover CCTV, crime prevention, fire safety, and lighting.

Who is responsible?

It is not set down in legislation, although it is clearly closely related to health and safety, responsibility for which is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This makes the employer - the LEA or the school governing body, or the proprietor in the case of an independent school - responsible for ensuring the health and safety of employees (staff) and non-employees (pupils). It covers not only activities that take place at school, but those that are school-related, such as trips.

While the primary responsibility lies with LEAs and schools, other bodies play a key role, including the police, the fire service, insurers, equipment providers, maintenance contractors, consultants and representatives of the local community.

What should schools do to improve security?

School Security Concerns found that a multi-agency approach - involving partnerships with the police, fire service, local agencies and community representatives - was the most effective way of managing an overall strategy. It also reported that the most commonly cited physical solutions were perimeter fencing, CCTV and other systems to control access to buildings, although measures such as staff training, strategic management of security issues and close partnerships with other bodies, especially the police, also ranked highly.

Legally, what can schools do about intruders?

Schools are private property and trespassers can be asked to leave. If they refuse, the police can be called to remove them. Schools or local authorities can also warn trespassers by letter and, if they persist, seek an injunction. If trespassers cause a nuisance or disturbance, proceedings can be brought under the 1996 Education Act. Police can arrest and charge trespassers who cause a breach of the peace, or deliberate or reckless damage to school property; the school can take civil action and seek compensation if they cause damage.

But in certain circumstances a school can be sued by an intruder who is injured while on school property, although clearly signposting all potential health and safety hazards may protect it from prosecution.

What about rights of way?

More often than not, public rights of way across school land are not security risks. But in some circumstances they can increase the likelihood of break-ins or vandalism, or lead to health hazards, such as used needles being left on school premises.

Schools can fence off paths or improve the security of their buildings.

Since February 12 this year, they have been entitled to ask local highway authorities to divert or close rights of way that cross school land to protect pupils and staff from violence, threats of violence, harassment, distress from unlawful activity or other risks to their health and safety.

The DfES says schools should seek other solutions first.

What can schools do about violent or abusive parents?

Parents are no different from other visitors in that they should conduct themselves properly while on the premises, without causing a nuisance or disturbance, and without abusing staff, pupils or other parents. If they do not, schools can have them banned, and can treat them as trespassers if they do not comply. But schools ought to give parents notice of their intention to do this, and time to respond before they do so. What's more, any such action should be taken formally, by letter.

What about offensive weapons?

It is illegal to carry an offensive weapon or knife in or around school premises without "good reason" - if the knife is for use in the kitchen, for example, or in lessons, or for religious purposes, such as a Sikh's kirpan.

Dealing with incidents involving weapons is obviously difficult and potentially dangerous, and the DfES advises that the police should always be called. Police have powers to enter schools, without permission in certain circumstances, to deal with such incidents.

Sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, staff may decide they need to act before the police arrive, although headteachers' leaders advise against this. Any action should be taken by two or more members of staff, and they should not confront the person carrying the weapon in front of other pupils, but try to divert him or her to a place where no one else is present. But staff are under no obligation to search a pupil if they believe it is inappropriate.

Clearly, searching a person can be problematic, and the police are trained to do it and to know when it is "reasonable". Teachers are not. If the person is not a pupil, or if the incident takes place outside the school, searches should always be left to the police.

A confiscated weapon should, in most cases, be given to the police as soon as possible. But while some items are clearly offensive (flick knives and knuckle-dusters), and should never be returned, some potential weapons can be handed to the pupil's parent or guardian.

The police will try to avoid making an arrest on school premises, but if that's unavoidable they will seek staff help to make sure it is as discreet as possible.

What role should the police play?

Traditionally, most schools have tended to regard incidents that take place on their premises as internal matters, especially those such as fighting between pupils, bullying and harassment. In general, they use their own disciplinary procedures, rather than engaging the criminal justice system, although the WGSS found that many felt they were not always given sufficient protection by the law enforcement authorities, especially against common problems of general nuisance, abuse and vandalism. Such low-level crimes can often contribute to a general atmosphere that makes more serious incidents likely.

In principle, the entire body of criminal law is relevant to incidents that take place in or around schools, just as it would be anywhere else, and the police have the same powers of arrest that they have elsewhere. In general, though, local police forces have not had particularly close working relationships with schools, other than to provide occasional assemblies or classroom talks on the perils of drugs and the wrongs of crime.

That situation is changing, and, although schools still have primary responsibility for security, they are increasingly encouraged to involve the police, not only in planning security measures but in genuine partnerships with a wider remit.

A new relationship?

Increasing concerns about youth crime and initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour among young people have led to projects that are changing the relationship between schools and police. Indeed, the DfES recently established what it calls "school police protocols", a set of principles that aim "to enhance the learning environment by providing a safe and secure school community. It talks not only about delivering the "lowest possible levels of bullying, intimidation and crime", but also of helping young people feel "safe and valued" within the school, and "engaged in education, actively learning and achieving higher levels".

Police involvement in schools, it says, should be "on the basis of regular, visible and well-supported contacts", and local police forces should have dedicated schools-based officers who support the curriculum by "improving school security as well as staff and pupils' safety and wellbeing".

The Safer School Partnerships The clearest example of this approach is the Safer School Partnerships programme, an initiative started in April last year by the DfES, the Youth Justice Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers, in which 100 police officers have been placed in schools that have behavioural problems and are situated in areas of high youth crime.

According to the Youth Justice Board, the partnerships "build on previous police involvement in schools where police officers have tended to take an essentially teaching role" (see case study). Their role in this scheme is more "operational", it says, as they deal with criminal and anti-social behaviour within the school as well as within the community, developing whole-school approaches to behaviour and discipline, and working closely with staff and pupils at risk of becoming victims or offenders.

This move from providing curriculum support and occasional law enforcement to being a far more integrated part of a school's approach to behaviour and security was pioneered by Thames Valley Police through its schools-based work in and around Oxford, Slough and Reading. "We moved police officers who worked in schools from a chalk-and-talk approach to a restorative justice approach," says Tony Walker, the inspector in charge of youth justice in schools in the Thames Valley force. "It is a significant change from a structured classroom-based input to one that requires police officers to police - it's a far more interactive way of working with schools."

Restorative justice?

According to Mr Walker, the principles of restorative justice are crucial to the success of the SSP. Restorative justice is about challenging inappropriate behaviour and getting offenders to take responsibility for what they've done, rather than simply processing them through a disciplinary and punishment procedure. Often this means perpetrators have to face up to the effects of their actions, sometimes by attending face-to-face meetings, or "restorative conferences" with victims and their families.

According to Mr Walker, the police school beat officer (or school liaison officer) is a central part of this process, initiating a restorative approach where it is appropriate. It means, he says, the officer doesn't suddenly switch from being an on-site adviser on school security or truancy to someone who's dishing out discipline. "It is about getting individuals to take responsibility; it's part of developing young people. In fact, it's about turning young people into adults."

Thames Valley Police was contracted to train all the 100 SSP police officers and 100 teachers in restorative justice methods, and, through them, skills and knowledge are now being spread among school staff and pupils in some of the toughest areas of Britain.

"The most likely place for a young person to become a victim of crime is on the way to school, or at school," says Mr Walker. "The hope is that the principles of the SSP become the mainstream for how police officers work in schools."

So how does this improve school security?

Police officers who work in schools are also beat officers in the local community the school serves. Often they are based at a secondary, but also work with that school's feeder primaries. And in building relationships with young people, they help cut down crime rates in and around school, within and out of school hours. "The results show it does work," says Mr Walker. "Young people have huge prejudices about the police, but these can be worked through to the extent, in some cases, that they become quite possessive of 'their' officer. Then, they take that out of the school, too."

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