Security arrangements in schools and colleges
Schools face a dilemma in their security arrangements. On the one hand, they wish to be open and welcoming places for parents, pupils and the local community. On the other hand, staff and pupils must be able to work in and learn in a safe and secure environment.
The legal obligations owed to staff and pupils are clear. Every employer is required by law to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees and others, and to take steps to eliminate or reduce those risks. This applies just as much to risks arising out of poor security arrangements, such as dangers from intruders, as to risks from unsafe premises or equipment.
This means that school employers are legally bound to examine their security arrangements, take the steps needed to improve security, and keep their arrangements under review. All reviews of school security arrangements should be firmly based upon the principles of risk assessment. Employers are legally required to consult their employees and their elected representatives about health and safety arrangements, including their security provisions.
How to improve security arrangements
As part of their legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their staff at work, employers must carry out a risk assessment of the school site in order to establish where risks to security exist, and how these should be managed, including when the building is closed.
Security arrangements should be reviewed regularly, and at least annually. Many schools have independent, isolated or temporary buildings, multiple entrances, poor fencing and public access out of hours. Therefore, the closing-down procedure is a vital part of the security arrangements of each school and college. Schools must also consider staff members engaged in lone working in their security arrangements, whether on or off the school site.
Employer monitoring of school security
In their annual reports to parents, governing bodies must report on measures taken to review and improve school security. Schools should therefore review their security arrangements at least annually. It is advisable that a specific review be carried out against the checklist recommended by the DfE in order to increase the likelihood of the school securing entitlement to funding for additional security measures.
School employers should be pressed to provide governors and school managers with proper guidance, support and training on the subject and operate a monitoring system on school security issues. Many local authorities have drawn up comprehensive initiatives on the issue of school security and all employers should be keeping their own approaches under review in the light of developing best practice elsewhere. It is important that schools outside of local authority control, such as those in academy chains and individual academies, ensure that policies and procedures are in place for maintaining security in their schools.
NEU health and safety representatives should ensure that issues of school security are examined and kept under review within their school.
Dealing with intruders
In 1997, the DfE issued comprehensive guidance entitled School Security: Dealing with Trouble Makers on dealing with incidents in schools. This guidance sets out the relevant legal background, covering civil and criminal offences, and pays particular attention to offences involving weapons or violence. It considers, and advises upon, the issue of co-operation between the police and schools in dealing with incidents and in monitoring school security matters on a routine basis.
However, please be aware that it might not reflect current government policy, however the NEU considers it to be useful guidance. The current government position can be found on the DfE website.
Dealing with trespassers on school property
Schools are not public places to which anyone can have access. People entering without permission are trespassers and a variety of approaches is available to dealing with trespassers under the law. The first thing a school should do is to make clear exactly who has authority to be on the premises.
Some people, in particular staff, pupils and parents, will have ‘implied’ authority to be present if they would normally be allowed access to the premises. There can be limits to their implied authority to be present. For example, there may be limits on the times and places when their presence is authorised. Parents might expect to be allowed on site only at the beginning or end of the day, or when otherwise invited.
Other people, including visitors, need specific authority to be present if they are not to be regarded as possible trespassers.
A school policy clearly communicated to pupils and parents can help in ensuring everyone knows who has authority to be present in schools, as can a noticeboard directing all visitors to present themselves at a specified reception point. Anyone can have their authority to be present withdrawn by letting them know by letter. Any implied authority of individuals to be present does not extend to circumstances when they are causing a disturbance.
What powers exist to deal with trespassers?
Special legal provisions govern steps to be taken against trespassers in schools. Section 547 of the 1996 Education Act provides that trespassers who are making a nuisance or disturbance and refusing to leave school premises are committing a criminal offence. ‘Nuisance or disturbance’ has a wide interpretation and includes, for example, riding motorbikes or exercising animals in such a way as to disturb the normal running of the school. Such trespassers cannot be arrested but they can be removed by a police officer or anyone authorised by the ‘appropriate authority’ – this is the local authority (LA) for maintained schools, the governing body or LA if authorised by the governing body for VA or foundation schools, and the proprietor for academies and independent schools. They can also be prosecuted and fined up to £500 or, if under 16, their parents can be bound over.
The NEU strongly advises that school staff should not themselves take on responsibility for removing intruders. The recommended course of action is:
- to advise trespassers that they are on the premises without authority and ask them to leave
- if they ignore the warning, to advise them that the police will be called
- to call the police and arrange for a police officer to come and remove them from the premises (serious incidents should, of course, be reported to the police at once).
The general criminal law applies where other criminal offences are being committed. Anyone committing a criminal offence, such as threatening behaviour, causing a breach of the peace, assault or committing criminal damage, can be arrested and prosecuted.
Finally, the school may take action under civil law. Injunctions can be sought against persistent trespassers and these can, for example, prohibit named individuals from coming on to school grounds or within a certain distance of the school. Anyone causing loss or damage can be sued by the school. Police and local authorities have used Criminal Behaviour Orders to exclude particular people from a school or schools where their behaviour is identified as likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, which are a criminal offence if breached.
Rights of way through school grounds
Certain schools have rights of way through their grounds. The law provides that rights of way may, in certain circumstances, be closed or diverted.
A school’s security risk assessment may identify a security risk posed by the existence of a right of way, particularly if there have been previous incidents. The school’s governing body may therefore determine that it believes that the right of way should be closed or diverted. In practice, courts prefer applications for closure or diversion to be made by the owner of the land; this may be the local authority, the academy trust, the diocese for voluntary aided schools or the foundation for foundation schools. The governing body should therefore seek the support and assistance of the appropriate body in making any such application.
Lock down procedures
Schools should establish lock down procedures, should an incident such as an attack or intruder threaten the safety of the school. When reviewing their security arrangements, employers should consider what measures will be required to lock down the school site. These will largely depend on the individual circumstances of the school, including the location and size of the site, and the age and needs of the pupils. Factors to consider include:
- how to alert staff and pupils of the lock down incident (to avoid confusion, this should not be the fire alarm)
- how to secure doors and windows
- how to bring staff and pupils into the site from outside
- where staff and pupils should be located during a lock down
- how to communicate throughout the school and to parents, emergency services etc during the lock down.
Consideration should also be given to communicating a lock down situation to members of the school community who are away from the school site, for instance, on a school trip. It is likely that they should be advised not to return to the school while the situation continues.
As with other security arrangements, employers are required to consult with employees and their elected trade union representatives on these matters. Schools should ensure staff (especially those with specific responsibilities during a lock down) and pupils are provided with comprehensive training on the procedures. If employers, such as local authorities, have guidance for schools on lock down procedures, this should be used to inform the process. The National Counter Terrorism Security Office has produced guidance on developing lockdown procedures which may be useful.
For more information about school secuirty, please download the full ‘School secuirty’ guidance