23 Jun How to review and manage your school security
When you pass by your local school’s gates and see pupils making their way with friends, parents, or grandparents, hopefully the scene is a welcoming and open one. But as all head teachers, governors and trustees will know, this image must be balanced with the reality of ensuring each school is secure and safe. In fact, it is a legal requirement for schools and academies to have a policy and plan in place to safeguard the security of all pupils and staff from internal and external threats that could endanger their safety. Schools are obliged in their annual reports to parents and governing bodies to report on measures taken to review and improve school security, and as such, a school’s security arrangement should be an issue under constant evaluation and formally reassessed at least annually.
So how should you go about managing your school or academy’s security?
Designate a responsible person
One of the first steps is to designate a lead person who is responsible for ensuring your school is meeting its legal obligations to protect students and staff from any threat to their safety. Your security policy should complement your safeguarding and health and safety policies, and form part of your suite of plans and procedures that you are required to create and maintain to be compliant with the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
The responsible person should have knowledge of health, safety and security issues, and be competent in assessing and continually reviewing the risks posed by internal and external factors relating to each individual school’s situation. Of course, in certain circumstances it may be required to seek professional advice, be that from local authorities, police or specialists providing compliance support services.
Assess, plan and review
It all starts with assessing risk. The UK’s Department of Education and the HSE (Health & Safety Executive), both governing bodies responsible for overseeing the running of schools, stress that risk assessments should be ‘sensible’ and ‘proportionate’ to realistic national and regional threats, highlighting that schools and academies are usually very safe places, but that plans and procedures need to be put in place in case of security incidences.
So, make an assessment of risk, followed by plans on how to mitigate that risk, or manage and respond to an incident. Remember to include how to manage your online security, how to deal with any threat during school AND non-school hours, as well as how to manage dangers posed from within the school as well as out, and issues of security relating to school trips that take staff and children outside of the school estate. Give special consideration to isolated or temporary buildings on your school estate, or times of the day when only few members of staff are present, or when the school premises are used by members of the public.
Key areas to consider include your perimeter fencing, security lighting, and all entrances to the school. In fact, a well-maintained school estate can act as a deterrent to break-ins and vandalism, and subsequently underpin risk prevention plans. Your plans should also include measures to keep improving security and should be under constant review. All your records should be kept up to date and stored where they can be easily accessed by relevant staff or HSE inspectors. It can help to use specialist compliance software which tracks and stores your compliance documentation, rather than risking your paperwork being lost in the caretaker’s office or in some old filing cabinet.
Once you have your plans in place you are advised to test them out as practice drills help identify areas that could be improved. Keep a record of your tests, and the results!
Train your staff
It’s crucial to train your staff so they know exactly how to act in the case of a security incident, be it a trespasser on school property during school teaching hours, or an internal incident where behavioural issues have perhaps escalated to cause a potentially serious security incident. Trained staff who have knowledge of precise procedures and plans can serve to alleviate a risky situation before it becomes serious if they are empowered to act. Staff should know how to raise an alarm and feel authorised to take that action should an incident take place.
While abusive or threatening behaviour from individuals or acts of vandalism may be more common, even more serious incidences, such as students carrying knives or a physical attack on the premises, should also have a place in your staff training and security planning, however (hopefully) unlikely these events are.
It’s vital to be clear about what staff are expected, and not expected, to do. An example may be in the case of a trespasser, where staff are encouraged to request the trespasser leave the premises but not expected to detain the individual, instead calling the police should their request be ignored. Another case could be where a staff member believes a pupil to be carrying a concealed weapon of some sort, what action should they take? Are they authorised to search for and confiscate a prohibited item, or is that role reserved for the head teacher or the security lead?
Remember to keep track of your staff training sessions as these records are proof that you take your legal obligations to protect your pupils and staff seriously and demonstrate your compliance with legislation. Again, the use of an external compliance service provider can help keep your paperwork in order.
Involve your whole school
The Department of Education promotes a whole school approach when it comes to security, where staff and pupils alike are encouraged to share a common understanding of how to respond to identified threats. Schools are increasingly urged to foster a culture of awareness, with pupils and staff understanding the need to be vigilant about their own safety and the security of others.
Indeed, children are fast learners, and simple messages have proved very powerful shields even for the youngest of children. Numerous lives have been saved by teaching children to crawl on the floor in the case of fire, or call 999 in an emergency, and in a similar way the curriculum can be used as a powerful tool to teach children about safety and security in their school.
PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) programmes in school are often used as a place to deliver messages concerning online safety and protection from cyber threats, as well as to foster positive relationships between young people and local police, discuss knife crime or drug trafficking, just to name a few. Anonymous reporting has also been used in some schools in an attempt to support internal behavioural management strategies, where children have been encouraged to provide information anonymously without fear of recrimination.
In more recent years, Counter Terrorism Policing have created the ‘Run Hide Tell’ resource pack, which can be used by schools to introduce an awareness of security issues to pupils and provide a simple strategy of action for children should a school face a serious attack.
Forge partnerships and think local
Schools and academies don’t need to plan all their security alone, indeed it is good practice to develop strong links with local police, councils, family and crime agencies, as well as with the wider community. Another good partnership to maintain is between nearby schools, as sharing information regarding local security intelligence, recent break-ins or current gang activity, can prove very useful in helping you prevent an incident before it happens.
Communicate your policy
Communication is key to the success of your security planning. It’s no good setting out endless procedures regarding who is allowed onto the school site if parents are not informed of your policy, for example. Parents will assume they are allowed on site whenever their children are there unless you explain the limits or procedures that are in place to restrict anybody just wandering into the school and potentially putting the safety of all those on site at risk.
Ensuring the security of your school and all those who use it can be a rather overwhelming task. While exploring the subject you may come across some phrases that cause a little anxiety, like risk assessment, invacuation, lockdown (not the Covid sort), business continuity planning and post incident support.
If that is the case, your school or academy may benefit from specialist advice from compliance support services, like those offered by KCS Compliance Services.
KCS Compliance Services
With experience in supporting schools and multi-academy trusts, we can:
- Take the pain out of preparing for your policy and certificate renewals
- Support you in achieving new compliance documentation and plans
- Organise and track essential training and certification of your staff
- Help you prepare for successful building and estate inspections
- Save you time with our simple online document management system
- Review your current compliance coverage to check its adequacy & relevance
- Provide access to expert advice and support
Contact us at KCS Compliance Services should you wish to discuss how we can support your school or academy.