Vandals don't go on holiday

Schools are prime targets for troublemakers and thieves over the summer. Phil Revell tells heads what they can do

THE summer term is winding to a close, but before heads set off for that holiday in the Dordogne, they need to think about securing their school over the long break.

"Vandals don't take six weeks off," said Sergeant Bill Wigley-Smith, who has been working with Telford and Wrekin education authority to reduce school crime.

West Mercia's School Watch programme involves a local security company making random visits to schools and reporting problems to the police.

"The security patrols have definitely had an impact on reducing incidents of crime and disorder on school sites," said Sergeant Wigley-Smith, who is West Mercia's police liaison officer.

All but six of Telford and Wrekin's 85 schools now take part in the programme, which costs pound;200,000 a year. That is cheap at the price, as just one school fire could cost pound;500,000.

"Schools are the hub of the community, but open access carries a risk of vandalism and arson - we just have to be vigilant," said Mal Yale, Telford and Wrekin's capital and facilities manager.

The security guards act as out-of-hours keyholders for many of the area's schools and their training helps them to spot the difference between kids playing football on the school field and a group intent on damage or theft.

In East Anglia, Jackie Cutchey, head of Lowestoft's St Margaret's primary, relies on a "good neighbours" policy to protect her school over the summer. One of her last jobs before the end of term is to write to all the householders who overlook the school. "I thank them for keeping an eye on the school through the year and ask them to report anything they see over the holidays," she said.

A similar scheme operates on Tameside, near Manchester, where the authority runs a summer campaign aimed at the neighbours of schools, with media coverage, leaflets and posters, asking people to keep an eye on their local school.

But Sergeant Wigley-Smith believes that schools could do more to protect themselves. "It can be a simple thing, such as locking school gates," he said.

The design of many schools does not aid crime prevention, but thoughtful site management can. Skips and rubbish bins are the source of many problems. They can contain inflammable materials, or missiles to throw at windows.

"Bins should be secured by chain away from the sides of the buildings," said Sergeant Wigley-Smiith. He recommends moving outdoor play equipment and furniture inside; picnic tables have been used as makeshift ladders to gain access to school roofs.

Most schools remain open over the break, with teachers dropping in and out to catch up on their work.

"But staff working in the school over the holidays need to think about their own safety," said Sergeant Wigley-Smith. "Who knows they are there? Could anyone walk in?"

phil.revell@ukonline.co.uk

SUMMER CHECKLIST

* Do not store any combustible materials next to the building, and ensure skips and bins have been emptied or removed.

* Check your CCTV systems. Buy new tapes and make sure that someone rotates the tapes, just as they would in term time.

* If the school is open, someone needs to be the duty officer, responsible for checking people in and out.

* If staff are alone they should consider locking themselves in.

* Any contractors working on site should lock ladders and tools inside a compound.

* Discuss the issues with your local crime-prevention officer.

* Further advice from the Department for Education and Skills at www.dfes.gov.ukschoolsecurity

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