Security for the Education Sector: Creating a Safe Environment in Schools

Schools are continuing to upgrade security measures for pupil safety. However, on top of all the fundamental challenges school management teams face, implementing well-rounded and effective security solutions can be deemed a difficult task. Andrew Shaw discusses the advantages of electromechanical solutions for today’s educational environment.

Schools can equate to some of the most complex security challenges for architects, specifiers and school officials alike. This is because choosing the right solution requires a comprehensive analysis of a building’s design and layout and the different requirements of each perimeter, alongside specific uses, user groups and opening hours. Different areas and spaces – such as reception areas, entry points or classrooms – each need to be approached differently in terms of safety and security measures.

What’s more, if the building is used for out-of-hours purposes, or if contractors are on site, these issues will also need to be addressed. Simply put, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

Security hardware and a precautionary lockdown strategy are necessities and integral to the safety of teachers, students and visitors. Adequate measures need to be implemented such that schools are prepared for, and safeguarded against, external threats or unauthorised access.

Whilst a lot of the responsibility here falls on the shoulders of facility managers, it’s also important for teachers and administrators to be aware of – and educated on – the various solutions and training available. This means knowing how certain hardware works and how to spot a faulty product. Adequate training also means that all staff know how to support an effective lockdown and facilitate a safe escape in the event of an emergency.

This is becoming increasingly important with newer systems, too, and especially so as the Internet of Things becomes more commonplace. Integrating electromechanical solutions into existing school security systems is now more commonly viewed as an achievable and viable option.

Given that an off-the-shelf security solution to fit all doesn’t exist, the benefits of integrating both electronic and mechanical solutions into systems are quickly becoming realised. As such, schools are growing more accustomed to tailored solutions based on their own unique building requirements and budgets.

Tackling vulnerable areas

Each school layout is unique and, therefore, a range of security factors specific to different areas must be addressed. Many areas within a school’s building design must accommodate for high capacity, and notably so in those places that may be part of a fire escape route.

All schools need to address three different levels of security. The first level is the least vulnerable of the three and concerns the perimeter entry and exit points. The second level is more vulnerable than the first, and relates to the point at which people are screened before entering the interior of the school. Finally, the third level – and the most vulnerable – refers to the core of the school that both pupils and staff occupy. Let’s examine each in turn.


As stated, the first level of security is the perimeter. These areas become more important depending on the time of day. School officials and their security solutions providers need to consider the amount of exit and entry points, which will be dependent on the size and layout of the school grounds.

Incorporating some level of electronic access control should be a consideration, whether that’s a combination of electronic and mechanical door hardware or a completely electronic solution.

An electromechanical solution, such as electric strikes, can be beneficial when it comes to the effectiveness of perimeter security as they provide greater visitor management and traffic control. Electric strikes are able to control access via keypads, cards and proximity readers. When combined with mechanical locks, they offer the benefits of unrestricted egress. This option also allows integration with central security systems, which can be automatically activated and pre-programmed for regular scheduled control.

These solutions help to lower the risk of potential unauthorised entry, which can lead to the theft of equipment and the compromising of people’s safety. They also aid facility and site managers in knowing where potential weak points are in the school perimeter. As schools will most likely have multiple access points, the combination of mechanical hardware and access control systems allows for both security and convenience, subsequently providing greater control and monitoring.

Front entrance and reception areas

The second level of security is the administration or reception area. As this area will be designed primarily to facilitate visitor entry, it will require adequate monitoring of access control. This area should be able to restrict visitors from freely accessing the rest of the school.

A well-designed school with a single entry point allows for such monitoring, but should also cater to the efficient movement in and out of the building. To do this, the latches used on access-controlled egress doors can be electronically controlled from the reception area or school office. Exit or entry doors may be opened by a push from the inside and, if the entry area is also an emergency exit, electronically-powered panic bars can also provide an effective solution.

When using access control solutions, schools are provided with information on who entered a part of the premises and when, are able to restrict or limit access to specific times of the day and easily add and delete users, allowing them to manage access to the building more efficiently.

Core of the building

Those areas most susceptible to vulnerabilities are the internal hallways, corridors, stairwells, entry points and restricted areas (such as staff lounges and science laboratories). These are the areas where a school must foster the safest environments for pupils and members of staff while also providing protection as they often contain confidential information, expensive equipment or chemicals.

For these areas, there are a number of different solutions that will be beneficial, whether electronic, mechanical or a combination of the two.

For electronic solutions, there are two options available: remote or centralised systems. With remote lockdown systems, individual locks are activated by remote control within proximity to the door. With integrated and centralised systems, the access control system is linked to all doors within the school building and locked at the touch of a button.

Mechanical solutions, which include a cylinder lock and key, are also ideal for places such as classrooms as doors can be locked externally with a key or interally with a thumb-turn to prevent unauthorised individuals from entering. When paired with electronic access control systems, mechanical hardware can provide simplified yet improved security levels.

Fire safety and ease of use

In schools, it’s often the case that entrance doors will also be fire exits. Electromechanical exit devices allow for monitored and safe access, while also allowing for an immediate exit. When integrated with electronic access control systems, emergency exit points become safer and more secure as access control measures can be added, whether for teachers, pupils or visitors.

In the interests of fire safety, and to eliminate the illegal practice of propping fire doors open as well as aid free passage in busy areas, electromagnetic door closers can be linked with the building’s fire alarm system. When the fire alarm sounds (or otherwise in the event of a power outage), the electromagnet deactivates, bringing the door to a close in a normal manner and preventing the spread of fire and smoke.

Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw

By design, electronic access control systems are also easy to use and maintain. The reliability and durability of such systems also means that there will be less need for excess time and money being spent on maintenance. There’s also peace of mind in knowing the systems are code-compliant.

Their flexibility allows for the implementation of a highly-effective bespoke solution. Electronic access control and electronic devices are able to be integrated with (or into) a variety of other electronic and mechanical systems. This means schools are able to successfully tailor solutions to their own budgets and building design requirements.

Fully-integrated security solutions and biometrics are becoming increasingly affordable and accessible, giving school officials and managing teams greater control over their buildings. These solutions also afford them scale for times ahead, meaning that systems are both future-proof and easily upgraded.

Andrew Shaw is Architectural Consultant for Allegion UK


About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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