School security

It is now nearly a year since the tragic Sandy Hook incident, where twenty elementary school children and six staff members were killed in a mass shooting on December 14th 2012.

The shock of the incident has sparked a huge reaction amongst middle schools in the US in terms of spending on their security – an incredible 90% of schools in America have improved their security over the past 12 months. One school in Wisconsin has spent over $500,000 on erecting barricades around the middle school’s property and installing a state of the art CCTV system covering the entire location.

Security companies have seen huge leaps in demand from middle schools and a debate is currently raging over whether teachers should keep guns in their classroom. The US Department of Homeland Security currently offers grants to schools to help beef up their security budgets, as well as offering training and resources to staff from teachers to bus drivers.

A spate of high profile shootings over the last decade, including the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007, the biggest mass shooting in US history, has inspired the development of new technologies that have been specifically made for the now sadly lucrative school security market in the US. This includes software that turns smartphones into ‘panic buttons’ that can lock down schools if the alert is sounded. Another smart invention is a bullet proof whiteboard that can easily be detached and turned into a shield for teachers to protect children.

This huge boost in security has seen major support alongside criticism, highlighted by a high profile incident where a seven year old in New York was arrested, handcuffed and interrogated after he was accused of stealing $5 from a fellow pupil. The story, that made the front page in the New York Post, started a discussion about how security may be too heavy handed or paranoid – another six year old child was arrested after throwing a tantrum that scared teachers into calling the police. Another element of security that has come under scrutiny is popular annual drills that teach children what to do if there is a shooting incident in their school. These drills have been accused of being far too realistic and scaring children out of their wits, distracting them from their work.

School security is entirely different in the UK, where metal detectors are used only in inner city schools and shooting drills are unheard of. However, many schools in the UK are severely underfunded and have insufficient security. Though shootings are rare (the only major mass shooting to happen in the UK was the Dunblane school massacre in 1996, where 16 children and one teacher were shot, still resonates in the national memory), and shootings are less likely to happen in the UK than the US because of our stringent gun laws, there are still major security issues in our schools. Gun crime isn’t the only concern for school security, particularly with stories of paedophile rings starting in schools and nurseries, such as the Vanessa George case in Plymouth in 2009, and an increased exposure of drugs to older children in secondary schools.

Middle schools are constantly put under pressure to achieve well in league tables and Ofsted inspections, which means a focus on achieving good grades, providing healthy school meals, and improving teaching quality. However, the security of a school is not judged regularly, leading to fears that security is simply not good enough at schools in the UK because it is not a priority.

There are many measures UK schools could take up to improve security, and some have taken the approach of using security guards, particularly in secondary schools and sixth forms. CCTV is becoming more common, and physical security boundaries such as perimeter fences and shutters are now being used to deter criminals.

The Prison Effect

Susan Elkin, writing for the Independent, argues that in some schools, security has gone too far, comparing the entry system to a school she visited in East London to that of HMP Brixton. She is also dismayed by the high fences which are popping up around schools – “But do we really need to surround schools with those spear-like metal palings? The school I used to teach at in Medway – once quite attractively flanked by open space and public footpaths – now has high fences with barbed wire on top. Shades of HMP Brixton again.”

A school is an essential part of the community, and it must find the balance between being a safe and friendly institution for both children and their families, and providing a sufficiently secure environment for pupils.

BY: Rob

Rob is a security expert from Advance Security. He has worked in the security industry for a number of years both in the areas of physical security (yes, he was a doorman for a while!) and as an advisor to commercial and educational facilities.