Advice and ideas for securing the school site and buildings, compiled by Dave Cotton, West Midlands Police Force and Nick Bason, Arson Prevention Bureau.

1.  Discourage unauthorised entry onto the site

By the use of signage. Schools grounds have regulations about the unauthorised use of the grounds out side of normal school hours. Look at the signage around the school and perimeter to ensure they give sufficient warning of security measures in place, the dangers of trespass and the consequences for anyone who is caught. Try also to reinforce this message by letters to the community. Deterrent signage is a great tool against crime. It raises awareness of the consequences of crossing the boundaries of school property and makes the crime that bit less appealing to criminals.

By delineating the boundary of the premises by use of a robust fence or hedge. This action makes it clear to would-be intruders and trespassers that they are on private property.

2. Ensure surveillance can be carried out effectively

Consideration should be given to the type of fence or hedge used so that it does not obscure the vision of passers-by and neighbours. Ensure that if you have bushes around the school they are kept to a maximum height of 1 metre and any trees are bottom crowned to 2.5 meters. This allows a clear space for people to see what is going on around the school and also reduces the fear of crime for staff, pupils and users of the facilities at night. It may also be necessary to consider security fencing for part of the whole site, if unauthorised intrusion is a major problem.

Good lighting is recommended given that most trespass and associated vandalism occurs out-of-school hours and often under cover of darkness. Sodium lighting should be used on elevations which are overlooked. Such lighting is inexpensive to run. In contrast, tungsten halogen lighting which is operated via infra-red motion detection is ideal for elevations which are not overlooked, but such lighting can be expensive to run. Lighting on elevations which are not overlooked or in recesses can attract unwanted visitors or provide intruders with ‘working light’. The colour rendering of light sources needs to be considered where CCTV surveillance is in use. Bespoke advice on security lighting can be obtained from local crime prevention officers.

The presence of school staff living on site is obviously a high deterrent to intruders. Where this is not feasible, then roving patrols by either commercial or local authority security teams can be effective. Such patrols should be random in order to avoid a recognised pattern. If such a service is used, close liaison should take place with the police.

If at all possible, think about involving the community in any security scheme you plan, they are valuable assets, your neighbours may well have family and friends who use the school facilities and hence a personal as well as general interest in protecting the school. Think about joining a current Neighbourhood Watch scheme, or even starting your own watch scheme such as a “School Watch”.

3. Prevent unauthorised entry into the building

If access to the site is controlled then the next barrier to the would be criminal is the building itself.

  • The weakest points of entry into the building(s) are, of course, the doors and windows. The numbers of doors and windows, particularly those out of view from the public, should be kept to a minimum. Clearly the means of escape should never be compromised and the Fire Brigade should always be consulted prior to any changes being made.
  • All external doors and windows should be fitted with approved locks (Thief Resistant Locks BS3621:1980) and secured immediately the building is vacated. The local crime prevention officer would be pleased to advise on this subject.
  • Door frame construction should be of good quality, with solid core doors without lower panels which may easily be forced. The hinges and frames should be reinforced to deter removal. Where letterboxes are fitted they should be fitted with metal enclosures on the inside to prevent damage arising from the introduction of burning materials.
  • Break-ins via roof-lights should be prevented by fitting grills or bars within the inside of the frame.
  • Low level glazing should be avoided both on security and safety grounds. If this is not possible it should be laminated or toughened, and securely fixed within the frame. 
  • Intruder alarms should be fitted. In most cases they should be connected to a call monitoring centre. Where the coverage of the alarm has to be limited, areas of high value should be alarmed. Consideration should be given to alarming areas such as corridors where intruders might be detected moving between rooms.
  • The installation of CCTV has a high deterrent effect. CCTV systems which are not monitored have limited value as the wide-angle lenses used to get the required coverage do not provide recordings of evidential quality. Some joint arrangements for monitoring CCTV pictures between schools and local Councils who operate a CCTV system have proved valuable in spreading the costs. The  subsequent reduction in vandalism has proved such schemes to be cost effective, despite the initial high capital outlay. Specialist advice should always be sought before installation of CCTV is considered.
  • With the use of school buildings outside normal school hours and opening the premises to a wider public, it is imperative that access to other parts of the school can be limited. It is important that the means of escape are not compromised when deciding which areas to secure whilst the premises are occupied. Here the local Fire Safety Officer should be consulted. A routine should be adopted by a nominated person to check that all external doors and windows have been locked once the school is vacated at the end of the day.
  • Deep recesses and alcoves are particularly vulnerable to arson and fires. Ideally, building alterations should be undertaken to eliminate these features. Failing that, point lighting should be used.
  • Outbuildings must contain appropriate locks which are able to protect their contents. Older buildings tend to be more vulnerable in this respect. Similarly outbuildings that are merely used as “junk stores” can soon become fire hazards and can attract undesirables – thus compromising security of the site.

4. Monitor all visitors to the site or buildings

Schools suffer a number of walk in thefts. To help avoid these, ask how easily you can monitor people coming into and out of school.

  • Can you monitor everyone who enters the school? This includes contractors, visitors and pupils. A signing in and out system can prevent unauthorised entry, be used for emergency evacuations and offer a record to refer back to in the case of a criminal incident.
  • Can you restrict the number of entrances into the building? 
  • Could you provide secure lockers for your staff?
  • Do you ask, and then listen to comments / suggestions from staff about security?
  • Do you have notices to reinforce the messages about security across the school?

5. Protect high risk equipment inside the school building

Do all of your classrooms have IT equipment left in them? If possible some of this equipment should be moved to a more central secure area when not in use.

Burglars are usually looking for desktop computers, laptop computers and projectors in schools – these are the highest risk items and should be secured to desks or the ground where possible and securely locked away if not.

Is all electrical and high risk property marked? It is important to overtly mark these items with the school name, and why not make them as unique as possible? You could even paint them pink with spots on. This would not affect the workings (check about warranty issues first) but making them this  distinctive and hard to sell on might put the offender off stealing them in the first place.