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While the UK has not faced the kinds of security challenges that US schools have (listen to the podcast further down the page to hear more about that), securing the school environment remains crucial to protecting students and staff.
A multitude of challenges face those charged with securing schools, particularly with school budgets typically overstretched, so how ambitious can those tasked with securing facilities, staff and students be about implementing security measures? IFSEC Global’s Editor, James Moore, reports.
The immediate requirement of a secure school environment is to protect and ensure the safety of the students and staff. Different methods of doing this are inevitable – ages range from four through to 18, after all – but the demands between balancing security measures while maintaining a pleasant learning environment are under constant scrutiny.
“Most educational buildings are now both public and private spaces. The need to delineate these areas is a security priority in an era when the ‘every child matters’ framework puts child protection and safety at the centre of concern.”
Perimeter protection and access gates or entrances are crucial as effective methods to keep students in during the school day, and intruders out. However, there is also a requirement for access control systems within the grounds itself, so that students can’t access areas that may present a danger or that are specifically reserved for staff. As Claire Blakemore, Managing Director at security manufacturer Mul-T-Lock explained, the challenge of managing people flow across a whole estate can be a constant source of frustration for security managers, where access control and hardware solutions are needed to protect entry points and ensure a secure physical frontline defence.
Video surveillance and intruder alarms are also required to monitor the perimeter and alert of intruders looking to gain access to valuable assets held within the school environment – laptops, computers and sports equipment, just to name a few.
It’s not just the ‘day-to-day’ environment that security and estates managers are tasked with overseeing, though. School facilities are increasingly being used after hours by external stakeholders such as local communities and sports teams. The school environment doesn’t just “stop at three”, explained Chris Paice, Estates Manager, Marlborough Science Academy. Libraries, sporting facilities, IT suites and performance spaces are all in demand until late in the evening, leaving security heads facing additional headaches.
As Jamie Allam, CEO of Amthal Fire and Security, adds: “This means most educational buildings are now both public and private spaces. The need to delineate these areas is a security priority in an era when the ‘every child matters’ framework puts child protection and safety at the centre of concern.”
Video surveillance cameras help keep a school safe (Image: Alamy Stock)
There is consequently a greater requirement for controlling access to individual areas so that only authorised personnel can enter when required, alongside a greater necessity for technology in security systems to play a role in protecting users. Many school estates have legacy technology still in use, so there is demand to unify and integrate much of what they have to move away from a siloed approach, noted Marc Roth, Commercial Manager at systems integrator Custom Intelligent Security.
With relatively modern CCTV and video surveillance solutions now available at much lower cost than 10-15 years ago, there is greater scope and flexibility to simply extend coverage, at least as a starting point. Marlborough Science Academy, for instance, now has 70 cameras across its estate, compared to just four nine years ago.
As Paice, the Academy’s Estates Manager explains, the additional cameras are vital for ensuring all areas of the school and perimeter that are necessary to monitor are covered, as well as enabling the school to be better protected during non-working hours and days.
Not stopping there however, his team is eventually looking to implement more advanced analytics functions within the cameras themselves – a requirement that Amthal has also witnessed in its own security installation and integration projects, says Allam.
A key reason for adopting analytics is to enable better tracking of students. Those that may be vulnerable, or those that have gone missing or are regularly attempting to skip school, can be spotted much more easily with basic tracking software.
Custom Security’s Roth, who recently supported a project alongside Genetec to upgrade Haberdashers’ Borough Academy in London, highlighted that PTZs embedded with radar systems are even being used in some instances to monitor the perimeter and spot those jumping over, or throwing objects over, the fence.
Haberdashers’ in particular, has begun to adopt more sophisticated technology. The Academy recently upgraded its Video Management System (VMS), which had originally relied upon only 15 cameras across the entire premises and couldn’t integrate with other physical security systems. In an effort to improve security and safeguarding, Custom installed Genetec’s Omnicast video management platform and significantly extended coverage with 115 high-definition cameras from Axis.
Genetec’s Guy Rushworth highlighted the benefits a unified system can bring to schools: “With an open and unified platform, a siloed approach to security can be removed. Not only does this improve safeguarding processes in schools as disparate systems can work together to improve auditing processes, but it also allows departments to share budgets and benefits.” At Haberdashers’, the system integrated with the canteen, for instance, to identify the school’s occupancy levels and help manage the food budget throughout the week.
Haberdashers’ School in London recently upgraded to a unified security system
A more integrated access control approach is also said to be beneficial to school environments. Security gates can be automated where appropriate, while removing the requirement for keys with electronic access solutions can significantly improve efficiency and accountability for those areas with limited permissions.
Ultimately, it is this integrated approach that is perhaps the most prominent underlying trend to improve school security. IDIS Sales Director, Jamie Barnfield, explains: “With IT departments taking a leading role they are considering the cost of managing and maintaining disparate systems, while eliminating gaps in security. So, there will inevitably be a push toward video and access integration, for instance to provide instant video pop ups to verify door events.”
Like many organisations, schools are realising the opportunity to connect multiple systems to better manage their facilities and improve efficiencies – an opportunity that is provided by investment in physical security technology.
Necessity for more sophisticated solutions may differ from school-to-school, of course. Primary schools for younger children, which are often smaller in size and face more limited threats, will likely not require anything more basic physical security solutions. However, even these schools now have greater flexibility with modern security tech.
Barnfield adds: “Typically, they [primary schools] will opt for a mix of disparate systems including limited access control, intruder systems, and low-profile surveillance,” says Barnfield. “We generally see demand in these applications for 2MP dome cameras and 5MP fisheyes for internal areas, the latter offering the advantage of cost-effectively doing a better job than three or four fixed-lens cameras.”
Threats that secondary schools face are likely to be far more diverse, however. There is a greater risk of youth and potential gang violence spilling into the school grounds, vandalism can be a common occurrence and cyber security has grown as a significant issue facing schools in recent years. Indeed, just this month a report was released documenting the threats and violence directed towards teaching assistants
Privacy issues must also be considered. There are inevitably areas that are much more difficult to cover by cameras, such as changing rooms and toilets, while data protection of video footage remains crucial, meaning images may be required to be blurred or masked.
Not all security technology that is regularly highlighted in other sectors is seen as relevant to schools at present, either. While some are adopting cloud-based systems for certain aspects of video retention, the majority of footage remains stored on-premise. There are several reasons for this it appears, but key is that the infrastructure isn’t necessarily in place, where bandwidth requirements may be higher than those available. Though commentators do suggest cloud adoption is growing, perhaps just at a slower rate than other environments.
All of this, however, comes with a backdrop of UK school budgets being squeezed ever-tighter by rising energy and wage bills. According to research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), schools in England are facing a looming funding crisis, with spending per pupil in 2024-25 expected to be 3% lower than in 2010.
On the other hand, it would appear that this is not deterring establishments from recognising the benefits and opportunities of modern security technology. The case for increased investment in physical security systems may continue to grow, too, as directors are made aware of the additional benefits integration can bring to teams outside of the security and facilities realm.
Budget levels will vary considerably across the UK, of course, with private schools generally having much greater flexibility than their state school equivalents. Yet, it’s worth nothing myriad examples of tech being utilised to better centralise security processes and manage data, increase coverage and manage access permissions – all with the underlying aim to improve security.
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As a former school governor our open sites security was always a problem. Our local Police performed active shooter drills (yes in the UK) as intel pointed to schools being easy targets for an ISIS ‘spectacular’, with the children, the fear this created actually improved some behavorial issues. The biggest problems however were violent parents, drug dealers runners attacking rival gangs runners and general child on child violence, knives did feature in that, though a sharp pencil can be just as lethal. CCTV made little difference as many of the worst offenders had full support from (anti)social services and knew… Read more »
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