POLICY & PRACTICE: Briefing - Security may turn schools intofortresses

By Tim Burke

| 26 February 2003

The Government has announced measures to permit headteachers to close off their school premises.

"Lewis shuts the gate on anti-social behaviour" Eh? What does that mean then? It means that Ivan Lewis, minister for young people, MP has announced that there will be new powers for school heads in England to close off school property to prevent vandalism and theft.

Basically, the problem has been that, where a right of way existed across school grounds, it has been impossible for schools to restrict access.

Now there will be legislation that will permit the closure or diversion of rights of way for purposes of preventing crime or community disturbance or for the protection of pupils or staff from harassment, alarm or distress.

There's also new guidance on making your school secure - fences, CCTV, risk assessment, that kind of stuff.

Well done, that minister. Well, yes. But it does rather beg the question as to what happens outside the school gate.

You mean on the streets, in shopping centres and the rest of the community?

Exactly. No one, not even the militant tendency of the Ramblers Association, could deny that there is a problem. Trinity School in Manchester, chosen by Lewis to make his announcement, has been burgled 10 times. And it is estimated that some 16 schools a week are set fire to. In 2001, school arson cost 56m.

But these "situational" responses to the problem of vandalism do not address the issues of disaffection from school or the lack of respect and responsibility that comes from lack of a sense of ownership.

Fortress campuses may end up exacerbating those feelings, pushing the most determined vandals into more extreme action or shoving the problem elsewhere.

Where they might become an issue for youth services? It's a possibility, isn't it?

So surely the website www.dfes. gov.uk/schoolsecurity urges schools to link with youth services? No, not really.

But surely the working group on school security that recommended this action to the minister includes a youth service organisation? Er, no again.

So what is being done to deal with any knock-on effect? There are ongoing crime prevention and diversion schemes in place such as the school holidays activity scheme Splash. There is also the Safer Schools Partnership initiative supported by the Youth Justice Board.

It is training and supporting a new breed of school police officer to work with young people on issues of safety and justice and working closely with Connexions, youth offending teams and other agencies. But this officer, no matter how saintly or streetwise, may not always be able to reach the excluded or the recent leaver nursing a grievance.

FACT BOX

- Management responsibility for school security is usually shared between local education authorities, governing bodies and the headteacher

- Paragraphs 8 and 12 of schedule 6 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will insert new sections into the Highway Act 1980 permitting heads, under certain conditions, to restrict access to rights of way crossing school land

- The new powers were recommended by the working group on school security set up after the murder of Philip Lawrence in 1995

- School security guidance can be found on www.dfes.gov.uk/ schoolsecurity.

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