A guest post by Cris Francis, Security Consultant, Jacksons Fencing
Every day, the UK’s schools – all 24,281 of them in England, 5,027 in Scotland and 1,617 in Wales – become second homes to more than 10 million children. In these educational facilities, curious minds are expanded, life-long friendships are forged and career choices of future leaders start to take shape.
Like all homes, good security is paramount. It’s no surprise parents all want schools to not only be places of learning, but of safety and security too. Since 1880 (when compulsory education was enshrined for all), parents have wanted assurances that when they leave their offspring in the morning, they’ll be kept safe and free from harm.
We recently commissioned research for a special report, ‘Protecting the Future’. We asked 1,000 parents (a nationally representative sample), 280 teachers (including nearly 50 heads) and 75 architects about a range of security issues.
We found that three-quarters of head teachers believe that pupil safety rests squarely on their shoulders. Their main concern is pupils getting out (30%), in contrast to parents, who are most worried about people getting in. Whether keeping people in or out, head teachers’ responsibility to keep students safe is only getting weightier.
Increasingly, schools no longer serve just children. They are also vital community hubs – from the partnerships they strike with local businesses, to the relationships they form with charities, non-profit foundations and civic organisations. But it’s a hard balancing act to strike. Today the UK’s schools must metaphorically open their doors to one and all, yet somehow keep them closed enough to ensure those who work and learn there are kept as safe as possible.
Don’t judge a school by its…
Encouragingly, while schools clearly face fiscal pressures, pupil safety is not something teachers and heads are willing to risk. Price comes way down their list of priorities after performance (73% say security rating matters) and after, using accredited products (68%) and taking into account lifetime costs (64%). Reassuringly, architects themselves also agree that the performance of perimeter fencing and gates matter most (amongst this group, 84% put it as their top requirement). Both teachers and architects are less interested in colour and acoustic specifications (only 19% of teachers and 35% of architects prioritise these).
What we can’t escape, however, is the fact that a quarter of fathers and one-fifth of mothers already claim schools look more like prisons, and according to architects surveyed for this research, there is a perception that some head teachers are perhaps taking security concerns too far. We find that a fifth of architects say that while head teachers take security seriously, the briefs they get are ‘fortress’ like.
So, what of the future? The current generation of children deserve an environment where they can focus on learning unimpeded by threat. They need perimeter solutions that don’t have weaknesses that tempt some kids to try and get out, and tempt others to try and get in. Schools need to be places that welcome the right people and deter the wrong people.
There is work still to be done. By looking a little deeper at the options available, perimeters can be made more visually appealing and less ‘fortress-like’, while still being secure. Perhaps conversations about the appearance of perimeters should rise up the agenda; it would certainly assuage those parents who think their local schools look too prison-like for their tastes (even though they clearly want the security this provides).
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