School security can be better by design

8th February 2008 at 00:00
As schools become ever more attractive to those intent on stealing valuable items, it's time to look at steps to reduce the risk of theft. We also have a growing responsibility to make sure young people are secure once they reach school.

Traditionally, schools have seen closed-circuit television (CCTV) as the answer. Recent research commissioned by the Government's safer schools and hospitals scheme suggests CCTV does have short-term benefits in reducing trespass.

But there are problems with the technology. It can be an effective deterrent, but we all know the camera is never pointing in quite the right direction and the picture quality is just too grainy for clear identification of intruders.

The same research found that a more effective long-term strategy is quite simply to make it more difficult to gain access. For many heads, this presents challenges, particularly for those who have been given a piecemeal building programme over a number of years. Building Schools for the Future presents a golden opportunity when designing a building to make it "secure by design". But for all schools there are some simple guidelines that can make a real difference.

The key message is that we should introduce measures that reduce "permeability". For some schools, this may mean investing in perimeter fencing. This doesn't have to mean installing ugly palisade fencing: there are many new designs that look quite attractive while ensuring that no one can get in. Such a solution may be expensive in the short term, but the research found that the long-term savings make it worthwhile.

Schools must also think carefully about entering the site. We have completely separate entrances for pupils and other visitors. The two pupil entrances lock electronically when school is due to start. Any latecomers have to use the visitors' entrance, which requires the school office staff to let them through an electronically controlled door. By separating the entrances, we have made it easier to manage the site and made the community entrance far more welcoming to parents and local people using the facilities on site, such as the public library.

Of course, if someone is determined to get into a school, they will. What we need to do is minimise the risk cost effectively and create a culture in which all staff and pupils keep security in mind as part of their everyday work.

Andy Buck, Headteacher of the Eastbrook-Jo Richardson partnership in Barking and Dagenham, east London.

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