The safety and security of schools and the individuals within them is something of an emotive subject. As the unfortunate incidents involving Ann Maguire in Leeds and Vincent Uzomah in Bradford have shown, the need for teachers to be able to work in a protected environment is just as important as the pupils’ safety. As John Davies explains, many education establishments have invested in creating a safe environment using integrated security where threats from inside and outside the school gates may be mitigated and managed far better than ever.
One of the biggest changes in the way in which school security is managed is a strategic one. Much like any secure site, schools are now designed to stop visitors from casually entering the premises by funnelling them towards a secure reception area. This approach is in stark contrast to the traditional one in times of old which often failed to challenge unauthorised personnel who could simply walk into the school premises.
Such a strategic approach is backed up by Best Practice access control systems. This starts right at the perimeter of the school with secure fencing and uses tightly-controlled access doors for the inner parts of the facility (including the classrooms, offices, hazardous areas such as science laboratories and server rooms and also sports areas).
Added to this, the latest developments in CCTV systems and software facilitate visual verification of incidents to enable the appropriate responses.
Despite the broad publicity of many news stories, the likelihood of a stranger being able to wander into a school has been significantly reduced due to deterrents and security systems. For anyone to attempt to do so unchallenged is even less likely. Some commentators may lament it’s a sad state of affairs that this level of security is needed for our schools, but it represents a pragmatic and sensible precaution to protect vulnerable young people.
Tackling threats from inside the premises
Perhaps even more worrying is the apparent rise in threats to pupils and staff from ‘authorised’ people – sometimes pupils themselves. Recent stories such as the aforementioned attacks on Ann Maguire and Vincent Uzomah are, according to the national press, a sign of the times when it comes to classroom-centric dangers.
These perceived threats are perhaps even more emotive than the classic ‘Stranger Danger’ of school intruders, largely due to the fact they happen within the confines of the school premises themselves and are perpetrated by individuals who would seemingly need protection themselves rather than pose a threat.
However, this is another area where the right security strategy is a real game-changer. It’s vital that school managers understand this. Access control measures, CCTV systems and security analytics can be used within the confines of the school premises every bit as much as on their perimeter.
Integrated access control is an excellent means of tracking where and when authorised individuals enter the premises, with CCTV and video analytics employed to follow their movements. This could be pupils located in a classroom outside normal teaching hours and in secluded areas at unscheduled times – indicating a potential threat that needs to be investigated.
Such a regime affords the school’s security team the ability to track unusual movements and be automatically alerted to any potential issues.
Other safety benefits from security
Access cards are ubiquitous in schools and with good reason. Many schools understand the benefits of both the security/identity aspect, as well as cashless payments. What may be forgotten, though, is how this aspect can help to discourage theft among the pupils.
If it should be stolen, an identity card is far easier to track than cash. After all, it will only be redeemable by the registered user and, should another person attempt to use it, the security system can automatically alert the security team or members of staff, in turn rendering fraud obsolete. Alternatively, a lost card can be quickly rendered of no use to the holder.
It’s no secret that integrated access control is also perfect for time and attendance recording and can be of particular benefit to schools. Truancy has always been an issue within the education sector, but an integrated access control system can automatically log such an occurrence and alert the school or even parents via text or e-mail.
This lifts some of the burden from the teaching staff, but can also be used to ensure pupil safety. If pupils are absent without good reason it could indicate they have a problem or are otherwise in some form of difficulty or danger.
The wider education sector
The national media headlines always focus on the security of schools, but of course the education sector is much broader, encompassing all manner of further education and training sector establishments and organisations which also have stringent security requirements.
Universities, for example, usually have a complicated infrastructure including numerous teaching facilities or a number of campuses which can make finding the right security mix a challenge. Universities also run student accommodation which needs a whole security infrastructure in itself designed to protect students and property while at the same time offering simple and reliable access to residents and staff alike.
The fact that university security teams rarely grab the headlines is indicative of the success achieved here.
Engaging with the market and the general public
The security industry has a huge amount to offer when it comes to creating peace of mind, flexibility, lower security running costs and value for money, all of which are a perfect fit for any educational clients right across the spectrum.
Our challenge in terms of solutions development is to stay engaged with our clients, maintain and build a mutual trust and show the general public just how much effort is expended by the security industry to protect our schools.
In truth, the education sector is actually better protected now than it has ever been in days gone by.
John Davies is Managing Director of TDSi