Chapter 10

School security


10.1 This chapter is concerned with the safety of staff and pupils in schools, and in particular with their protection against violence. It is written primarily from a Scottish standpoint. In some cases violence may take the form of an attack by an unauthorised intruder, such as Thomas Hamilton. In other cases a person who has gained access to the school on some basis, such as being a parent or having some work to perform, becomes violent when he is there. Not all attacks are premeditated. Some might arise spontaneously, when the aggressor is, for example, under the influence of drink or drugs, suffers from some form of mental instability or simply loses self-control in an excess of anger.

10.2 The subject of violence to staff, and in particular staff in the education sector, has attracted a significant amount of interest in the last 10 years. I would refer in particular to the report Preventing Violence to Staff by B Pointer and C Warne of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations which was published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 1988 and the guidance contained in Violence to Staff in the Education Sector which was prepared by the Education Service Advisory Committee (ESAC) and published by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) in 1990. The ESAC advises the HSC on the health and safety at work of employees in the education sector and on the protection of pupils, students and others on directly related hazards arising from work activities. The ESAC's working definition of violence is: "Any incident in which an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted by a student, pupil or member of the public in circumstances arising out of the course of his or her employment". I am also aware of the work of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust which includes a comprehensive guide to personal safety for education staff.

10.3 There has been a clear recognition of the potential dangers to pupils arising from the state of school premises, machinery and equipment and from the processes and substances which are used in the course of school work. It is also recognised that there should be arrangements for security to prevent unauthorised access to the school. However, so far as I have been able to determine, there has been little, if any, published guidance on tackling the dangers which an unauthorised intruder could pose to the school population at large, and in particular its pupils.

10.4 It is, of course, possible for action to be taken against intruders by the police and the criminal justice system. In the report of the Working Group on School Security which was presented to the DfEE in May 1996 reference was made to certain statutory offences in England and Wales (para 7); and in its commentary The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department mentioned the equivalent powers in Scotland. No doubt the existence and use of the law will have some deterrent effect. However, in this chapter I am concentrating on a proactive approach to the subject.

Factors for consideration

10.5 It is understandable that in the aftermath of what happened at Dunblane Primary School there should be calls for additional measures to protect the school population, either in the form of physical alterations to schools or an increase in the extent to which access to them is supervised. However, it is plain that schools vary greatly across the country in regard to their nature, size, layout and age. What would be appropriate for an inner city school of 700 pupils would be unlikely to be suitable for an isolated rural school. Some older schools may be housed in accommodation originally designed for a different purpose. Some schools may operate on split sites. Some methods of opening locked doors could be operated by older children but would be impracticable for younger or disabled children.

10.6 The protection of the school population needs to be carefully distinguished from the related problem of providing protection to school buildings and equipment which may be at risk of vandalism, theft or fire-raising. Some measures may be of greater significance for the latter than for the former. In allocating scarce resources it is necessary to be clear as to the object of what is proposed and the value of what it can achieve.

10.7 In considering any particular measure it is clearly necessary to consider not merely whether and to what extent it would be practicable and effective but also whether it would be acceptable. The point has often been made that schools should be welcoming places. Many schools represent a community facility, receiving adults for evening classes and recreation. It would be unacceptable to carry measures to the point where schools were turned into fortresses. At some point a balance has to be struck.

10.8 Whatever measures are to be taken it is unrealistic to expect that the risk of a violent intruder gaining access to a school can be eliminated. All that can be done is to take whatever measures are reasonably practicable.

Protection from violence through the management of safety

10.9 I am in no doubt that a solution to the problem of protection should be tackled through the application of sound principles of safety management.

10.10 The principal legal basis for the responsibility for the protection of staff against violence which they encounter in the course of their work lies in section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, under which every employer has "to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees". This duty is not confined to the physical working environment but covers also the provision of information, training and supervision. Subsection (3) of section 2 supports the main provision by imposing a duty to prepare and issue a statement of policy and the organisation and arrangements for carrying it out.

10.11 At the same time every employer has a duty under section 3 "to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not exposed to risk to their health and safety".

10.12 Section 4(2) of the Act also imposes a similar duty on every person who has to any extent control of premises in connection with his carrying on an undertaking, the means of access thereto or egress therefrom or of any plant or substance in such premises.

10.13 I do not intend to embark on an exposition of how the duties imposed under the health and safety legislation should be complied with or to attempt to improve on the guidance which the HSE and the ESAC have issued from time to time in their various publications relating to statements of policy or successful health and safety management. However, I propose to highlight a number of aspects which appear to me to be pertinent to the subject of this chapter in the light of the evidence which I heard.

Legal responsibility

10.14 Firstly, it is important that there should be no misunderstanding as to the persons on whom the legal responsibility for safety, and hence the responsibility for seeing that action is taken, lies. An employer may delegate the performance of various functions to others but he cannot delegate his responsibility under the Act. Thus, purely by way of example, recent decisions have shown that employers cannot avoid their duty under section 3 by pointing to the extent to which they have delegated their functions to an independent contractor or by showing that senior management were not involved in the breach (R v Associated Octel Co Ltd [1994] IRLR 540; and R v British Steel plc [1995] ICR587).

10.15 In Scotland the employer in regard to schools is the local authority, except in the case of self-governing schools where the employer is the board of management: and in the case of independent schools where it is the proprietor. In England and Wales the position in regard to legal responsibility is different.


10.16 Secondly, it is important that there should be no uncertainty as to the allocation of health and safety functions. I would draw particular attention to the advice about the organisation for safety which is set out in paras 10-14 of Safety Policies in the Education Sector,(revised 1994) which was prepared by the ESAC. This includes the point that key personnel in the line management structure should be identified and their health and safety roles clearly defined. I mention this aspect particularly in view of the fact Mr G D Jeyes, Director of Education for Stirling Council, who attended as a witness in regard to school security and who spoke of the desirability of making risk assessments, appeared to be unsure as to whether the 1974 Act applied to schools.

Safeguarding against violence

10.17 Thirdly, the duty which an employer of teaching staff has under section 3 plainly covers the safeguarding of pupils against violence associated with the running of the school. The expression "risk" in section 3 conveys simply the idea of the possibility of danger (R v Board of Trustees of the Science Museum [1993] I WLR 1171); and there can be no doubt that an attack by an intruder is a possibility, as the events at Dunblane Primary School and other schools in this country have demonstrated. This is not an aspect of health and safety which has been specifically recognised in the past, at least in the case of some education authorities. Mr B W Pill, Health and Safety Adviser to Stirling Council, and formerly to Central Regional Council, frankly accepted that in the formulation of the safety policy for the Regional Council the idea that anyone might enter school premises to commit assault "never crossed our minds". However, he accepted that intruders would now require to be considered.

Preventive strategy

10.18 Fourthly, the existence of that risk calls for the working out of a preventive strategy, at the heart of which is risk assessment. Such an assessment is implicit in the test of reasonable practicability, by means of which those who have duties under the 1974 Act can demonstrate that they have fulfilled their responsibilities. However, it came to be explicitly required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992, which provide by regulation 3(1):

      "Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of -

      1. the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and

      2. the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,

      for the purposes of identifying the measures which he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions".

For this purpose previous incidents, which should be recorded in a systematic fashion, may on analysis yield useful information in identifying and evaluating risk. However, the exercise of assessment covers any significant risk whether or not it has yet been realised. To assist the employer in undertaking the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him, regulation 6 requires him to appoint one or more "competent persons". On the basis of the risk assessment and its regular review decisions have to be made as to what should be given priority, which of a number of alternative courses should be adopted and how the effectiveness of these measures should be monitored.

Individual schools

10.19 Fifthly, the differences between individual schools indicate that each is likely to pose its own particular set of strengths and weaknesses; and that the assessment of risk should take account of each situation. If a blanket approach to the installation of measures is adopted this may involve unnecessary or inappropriate expenditure. If, on the other hand, each school is left to proceed with what it can do in a piecemeal fashion this may lead to a risk being overlooked or under-appreciated. What seems to me to be needed is a safety strategy and action plan for each school which would be based on a risk assessment relating to its particular features.

Possible measures

10.20 What approach should be adopted in the action plan for a particular school and what measures the plan should include must, of course, depend upon the particular case. However, I will set out an outline of the main points which were put to me in the helpful submissions which I received. At the risk of being thought to be providing a glimpse of the obvious I will consider the protection of the school population in two phases, first, restricting or regulating access to the school; and second, dealing with emergencies within the school.

Access to the school

10.21 It may be of value to consider whether the school should have one or more than one line of defence. Should the first line of defence be the boundary which defines the grounds of the school. Should attention be given to walls, fences or gates? Should steps be taken in other ways to restrict public access to or through the grounds?

10.22 Next, turning to the playground, should it be lit in the evenings and in winter? Are there any special risks associated with outlying buildings, courtyards or the school car park? Is there a need for surveillance by closed circuit television?

10.23 As regards the means of entry to the school buildings, there may be scope for restricting access by reducing the number of doors or by modifying them. However, that may have to be balanced against a number of other factors. Should some subsidiary doors be altered so as to operate as fire doors, opening outwards only? Should there be some form of special entry system? Should this require locks which can be operated by means of a code? Or should it be an entryphone system, which may involve additional manning? Is some form of surveillance of the entry points required? Each of these methods may involve significant drawbacks, such as presenting a forbidding aspect or creating difficulty for children to understand and use. Should any of the windows be modified so as to prevent them being used as a means of entry?

10.24 Taking next the reception of those who visit the school, should parents and others be required to give advance notice of their intention to visit? Should some form of surveillance be installed at subsidiary points of entry? Are the signs in the school adequate to provide clear directions to a reception point? What staff, such as a janitor or a secretary, should be on hand to speak to those entering the school? What training should they have for dealing with aggressive visitors? What backup should they have? Should there be a system whereby all visitors sign in and sign out? Should there be badges to indicate who are members of staff and who are visitors?

Dealing with emergencies

10.25 Let me suppose a situation in which some untoward incident is imminent or is already in progress. The object will be to contain and defuse the situation on the one hand; and on the other make sure that staff have immediate support and can call for assistance. The first points to the need for staff to receive regular training in dealing with aggression, acquiring knowledge of security procedures and equipment and in general cultivating a sense of safety awareness. The latter involves a consideration of physical measures which will depend very much on the school layout. It may be appropriate to consider panic buttons or telephones, especially in regard to outlying buildings. Personal alarms for teachers may be required. Closed circuit television may be of some assistance but if it is to help in averting or minimising the effect of incidents it will require to be monitored. Pupils can be encouraged to play their part by being alert to the presence of strangers and aware of security and evacuation procedures.

Further guidance

10.26 I have noted that the ESAC is updating its guidance in regard to violence to staff in the education sector. It would, in my view, be of significant assistance to the efforts of those with legal responsibilities in that sector if that guidance could be extended to encompass the safety and protection of the school population as a whole, particularly in view of the problems which this presents in reconciling conflicting objectives and in striking the right balance in the use of limited resources.

10.27 The safety of the school population should be a consideration during the designing of new school buildings and significant alterations to existing buildings, when the opportunity can be taken to apply lessons derived from the weaknesses of the past. I note that according to paragraph 19 of the Report of the Working Group on School Security, to which I referred above, that Crime Prevention in Schools: Practical Guidance which was published by the Department of Education and Science in 1987 is due to be replaced by the DfEE in the coming year. Since The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department has generally withdrawn from the practice of issuing guidance to local authorities on matters relating to school buildings there are no plans in Scotland for the issuing of separate guidance equivalent to what the DfEE produce. However, I understand that The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department intends to draw the DfEE's guidance on school security to the attention of education authorities and any other relevant interests in Scotland.

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Prepared 16 October 1996