When designing any facility for the education sector, security should be a primary consideration from the very beginning. School attendance in 2020 has been unusually erratic, but in a normal year, over 10 million children are in schools across the country daily. Parents not only entrust their children’s education to head teachers and their staff, but also their personal security.
Whether renewing, refurbishing or building a school from new, the school fence, entrance gates, and access control are all key considerations. A perimeter should provide a realistic and appropriate level of physical security against the risks it could face, while simultaneously either making a bold design statement in its own right or blending into its environment.
We commissioned research for a special report, ‘Protecting the Future,’ for which 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. Despite this, three in ten teachers still do not think their school grounds are secure enough.
Criminal damage is a problem at 28% of schools, according to teachers in our survey. This is part of a range of risks, from theft and vandalism to arson and anti-social behaviour. Thieves sometimes target public buildings for their materials, such as copper and steel. Other risks can include heavy traffic, or equipment and fencing appearing as an incidental climbing frame for young students. A risk assessment is the first step to providing any school security strategy, and will form the basis for the points we mention. It’s important to remember that facilities managers must implement security strategies for schools on a case-by-case basis, as one blanket rule will not be robust enough to cater to the needs of each site fully.
As a result of these findings, we’ve devised our top five areas to consider when evaluating the security of a school site.
Access control is a critical part of any school’s security strategy. Over half of teachers say their school has more than one entrance (56%). Access points should be centrally controlled and closely monitored, with one central entrance located in view of the reception or school office. Ensure that you include a pedestrian gate next to vehicular entrances for safety purposes. If you do have other gates, it’s a good idea to make them accessible only during peak times, such as to create a one way system through the grounds. Ensure you install signs displaying opening times and directing visitors to the main access point.
For any school, a big challenge is finding the balance between deterring potential intruders and welcoming students and visitors. Creative use of colour can soften a perimeter’s appearance and help convey the school’s image. While metal railings may be suitable for some schools, nurseries and primary schools may benefit more from timber fencing, which still provides security but with a ‘friendlier’ appearance and greater privacy.
Many schools experience heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic at peak times of the day. Think about creating separate traffic routes for pedestrians and cars to ensure safety during these busy times, and discuss how site security should be managed in off-peak times. For instance, are there deliveries or maintenance vehicles coming onto school grounds? In primary schools, younger children may be collected by parents part-way through the school day, while Sixth Form students in secondary schools are often permitted to leave the grounds during lunch or free study periods.
It’s essential to take a good look at the local landscape to understand risks and potential problems. For instance, are the foundations firm enough for fences, gates and barriers to sit effectively? Or are there any potential climbing aids, such as overhanging branches, parked vehicles or storage bins that need to be avoided? If your school is in a residential area, consider the impact that security solutions may have on neighbours. Acoustic fencing can provide privacy and security, while also reducing noise from inside (and outside into) the school grounds.
Materials: what to use and why
For schools with lower or standard risks, timber and steel fencing and gates provide sufficient security. Where a slatted design is preferred, panels should be orientated vertically to make them more challenging to climb. For welded mesh designs, small gaps between the horizontal and vertical mesh make fences more resistant to climbing. Fences should be a minimum of 1.8m high overall and be capable of maintaining their height over different ground levels without resulting in gaps underneath.
Schools located in higher crime risk areas should consider specifying LPS 1175 security rated products, and specify fencing at a minimum height of 1.8m. Awarded to products only after rigorous independent testing, by the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB), the security ratings indicate the resistance perimeter fencing systems can offer against a range of attack tools.
Regardless of a fence’s quality, if a climbable tree or object is nearby, gaining access to the site becomes a simple job. Therefore, whether installing or maintaining a school’s security measures, specialists, architects, and contractors should all be invited to collaborate.
The security of our children cannot be overstressed, and ensuring that our places of learning are properly planned, designed, and secured, demands due time and attention. By improving communication between security specialists, designers and teachers, and sharing their specialist knowledge, there is no doubt that the safety of our schools will benefit hugely.
By Peter Jackson, MD Jacksons Fencing