Education Security: Balancing Security with Freedom

There is often a feeling that security and education don’t mix. One is about openness and sharing information, the other is about being closed and protective; one is about freedom and the other about control; one is about optimism and the other about pessimism. But schools and universities can find a happy medium, as Kirsty McMahon found out.

The security of education facilities has long been a sensitive topic, particularly regarding how to balance on the tightrope that stretches between too much security and too little. It’s an issue that generates miles in column inches, divides parents, staff and governing bodies, and still does not seem to have a definitive solution.

No matter which side of the fence you sit on, no one is in any doubt that schools and universities need to fold security into their day-to-day operations. The list of tragedies that highlight this fact is seemingly never-ending. The recent stabbing of teacher Anne Maguire, 61, at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds this year, the machete attack at St Luke’s infant school in Wolverhampton in 1996 by Horrett Irving Campbell, 32, and the Dunblane school massacre, also in 1996, where 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton killed 16 pupils and one adult before committing suicide, are all just examples from the United Kingdom.

There are far more horror stories from around the world, including in China in May this year when a cleaver-wielding man injured 8 children, the death of a teacher and 3 students at Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse in 2012, the Utoya massacre in 2011 that saw Anders Breivik kill 77 in Norway. That’s all without mentioning the laundry list of school and university attacks in the USA, such as the murder of 20 children and 6 adults at the hands of Adam Lanza, 20, in Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newton, Connecticut, in less than 11 minutes.

When you assess lists like this, you can see why some people are tempted to throw up barbed-wire fencing, limit access with state-of-the-art access control systems, and affix a CCTV camera to every wall. And yet, education is intended to be open, must be enticing and, let’s be honest, would you be happy sending your child to a facility run more like a prison than a school? Striking a balance is vital for students to focus on their education, not fret that at any possible moment a crazed gunman is going to burst through the door.

Culture of vigilance

So how does one go about that? The Education Act, set out in 1996, has very few security stipulations. The minor coverage given over to school security appears at the tail end of the document, in Part X, Miscellaneous and General, and concerns merely the matter of trespassing on school property, highlighting that Local Authorities take on the responsibility of setting out appropriate guidelines for schools.

From there, trust is placed in school governors to protect students sufficiently.

Despite only limited guidance on the best way to secure schools in the UK, security is still high on the list of priorities for inspection bodies like Ofsted.

Speaking to SecurityNewsDesk, an Ofsted spokesperson said, “Schools have a duty to ensure there are proper arrangements in place to keep children safe. Inspectors consider how well leaders and managers in schools or colleges have created a culture of vigilance and where children’s welfare is promoted and appropriate safeguarding action is taken for children who need extra help or who may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

“Inspectors also evaluate how well schools and colleges fulfil their statutory responsibilities, and how well staff exercise their professional judgment, in keeping children safe. This includes consideration of whether the physical environment for children is safe and secure, and protects them from harm or the risk of harm.”

So, when it comes to securing students it appears to come down very much to the human element, and creating an overall culture of vigilance.

Let’s talk

Richard Mansfield, Vice Chairman of The Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) and Head of Security at City University, London, believes that open communication is the best way to achieve this vigilance.

“The trick to getting security right in any education facility or campus is to allow regular discussion in an appropriate manner,” Mansfield said. “Regular, chaired discussions help keep communication flowing. This is important as there is always something going on at a school or university. For example, there are regularly guest speakers at universities, and these generate their own issues that must be addressed on an individual basis.”

Mansfield also stressed that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to security in education.

“This is why it’s so important for intelligence gathering and information sharing to be a standard practice in the education sector,” he said. “This helps security managers accurately assess risks. Introducing statutory processes across the board would be tricky, as all education providers are different. There are a range of good guidelines available for universities and schools and each must assess these on their own merit.”

AUCSO is very much an international source for such information. Mansfield explained that the organisation aims to support intelligence gathering and promote the sharing of processes and procedures that are proven to work both openly and on a one to one basis.

Time to act

So you’ve gathered your intelligence, you’ve had the appropriate discussions and you’ve checked your guidelines. Now what?

Now you need to investigate the best solutions for the specific requirements of your school or university. There are a range of security companies who tailor products specifically for the education sector with the goal of maintaining an open environment, and one of them is Paxton.

Gareth O’Hara, Paxton Sales and Marketing Director, told SecurityNewsDesk, “Security is a hot topic right now, particularly within the education sector with a nationwide focus on improving the security in schools for children of all ages. Our diverse range of scalable, networked solutions provides increased security and convenience at a price point that is uniquely suitable for sites of all sizes. We hope education facilities will utilise the intelligent security solutions available to provide safe and controlled learning environments for their students.”

Paxton’s Net2 access control range offer scalable features that integrate easily with other aspects of security such as CCTV and fire alarms, this helps education providers discreetly manage the security of their students.

Net2 is a networked security solution, and you can monitor the movement of children during lesson time, and the Timezones feature in Net2 software allows children, parents and teachers to come and go freely during breaks and home time.

Paxton’s solutions also go beyond basic security and help take care of students in other ways. Such as, extra features like event logging, payment cards for meals and the ability to utilise existing network points, reducing cost of mains installation and the need for additional mains points. Paxton also says Net2 software can also ensure the safe and positive induction of students by accessing information about how much students are moving around the campus which indicates whether they are settling in well, meaning you can utilise your security solution to monitor student welfare.

Another company working hard to provide seamless security for the education sector is Essentra Security. We asked Sue Woodcock, Marketing Manager, why the education sector was so important for Essentra.

“It has been a market sector in which we have actively developed advanced technology for ID solutions over the past 20 years,” she said. “We have specialist expertise from our team who understand the requirements and know what is important to the education sector. We have also developed close working relationships with other providers in the supply chain to ensure that we can always provide ‘best in class’ products that meet the exacting requirements of schools, colleges and universities. Essentra Security, formerly Securit and Payne Security are entirely focussed on ID solutions and this places us in a unique position to share with our education sector customers our product and market knowledge to enable them to achieve maximum advantage from the latest ID technologies.”

Woodcock went on to explain why she felt so strongly about supporting the sector, saying, “Schools, colleges and universities provide a multitude of opportunities for would-be thieves. Audio visual, scientific and sports equipment, laptops and PCs, as well as personal property, can be easy pickings in these establishments where the emphasis is on offering a welcoming atmosphere for legitimate visitors and a relaxed, fear free learning environment for students and staff. Deterring graffiti and vandalism can also be a challenge, but of paramount importance to all those involved in education is the duty of care to ensure that students are safe and secure.”

Essentra solutions support the balance needed in education security by introducing access control and visitor management systems as part of a seamless integrated solution, which includes other security systems such as CCTV to verify the identity and allow the free flow of students, staff and authorised visitors, whilst deterring and detecting anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.

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