Education & Family

Schools should not become fortresses, say head teachers

Mass for Ann Maguire Image copyright PA
Image caption How should schools respond to Ann Maguire's death?

As Corpus Christi Catholic College mourns the loss of Ann Maguire, there will be calls for a closer scrutiny of school security.

What defences could be in place to prevent such terrible incidents as the fatal stabbing at the school in Leeds?

But head teachers' leader Brian Lightman called for calm and to "ensure we don't turn schools into fortresses".

"We should not be rushing to generalised conclusions about safety in our schools," he said.

"Schools are still by far the safest places for our young people to be in," said Mr Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

"This is a tragic incident, and our hearts go out to everyone affected. However, we do need to stay calm and bear in mind that thankfully this is an isolated incident and it is not the norm."

Security technology

Mr Lightman called for a balance to be struck between protecting teachers and resisting any premature rush for excessive security.

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, also said such terrible events should not turn schools into "high-security fortresses".

"No amount of perimeter security can totally guarantee safety from a random attack or disturbed individual."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Prayers were said at a mass for Ann Maguire at Corpus Christi church

He said there was an understandable pressure "to do something" - but that it should be remembered that "schools are overwhelmingly very safe places for children and staff".

Leader of the ATL teachers' union, Mary Bousted, said that since the attack on Monday she had been asked repeatedly about whether schools should increase security, such as introducing more metal detectors.

But Dr Bousted said relying on security technology was not the best way to improve safety, and she pointed out that if pupils were determined to smuggle in weapons into a school, a knife arch would not necessarily stop them.

"If you look at the United States, it's not the route to go down."

She said that toughening up security in response to school shootings had not ended such attacks there.

Instead, schools needed to create a safe environment, where teachers could be confident that behaviour policy would be enforced. A culture of respect was more effective than security devices, she said.

Since Philip Lawrence was killed outside a school in London in 1995, there have been dozens of fatal shooting incidents in schools in the United States - some with multiple victims such as at Columbine High School, in Colorado, in 1999.

Security measures in US schools can include rehearsing lock-down drills, as well as security guards, police officers and metal detectors.

Respect - not denigration

Dr Bousted warned that in the "media frenzy" following a terrible event such as the death of Ann Maguire in Leeds it was important not to forget that most schools were "orderly places".

They were also the places where young people learn about citizenship and tolerating difference, she said.

And a message from this should be the importance of respecting teachers and not "denigrating" their public standing.

Schools in the UK are likely to have "critical incident plans", such as for fires or intruder attacks, but the behaviour of individual pupils remains much harder to anticipate.

The use of security arches and pupil searches grew in the UK from about a decade ago - and Safer School Partnership arrangements created a formal link between schools and police.

Teachers have warned of their vulnerability to aggression from pupils, when working alone in a classroom.

But the introduction of CCTV cameras has also been controversial.

A teachers' conference heard complaints earlier this month that the proliferation of CCTV cameras and recording equipment in classrooms was an intrusion into their privacy.

A survey had found that one in 12 teachers worked in classrooms which were under permanent surveillance from security cameras.

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