The Department for Education issues new security guidance for schools, academies and colleges

31 Dec

On 5 November 2019, the Department for Education (DfE) published new security guidance for schools, academies and colleges.  Institutions should follow the guidance alongside safeguarding responsibilities and obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).

The government is keen for schools and academies to take the matter of security even more seriously than they did before.  When criticised that it had not been more prescriptive on this subject, the government spokesperson said that schools and academy leaders were best-placed to make decisions on their own security policies.  The guidance encourages schools and academies to form partnerships with the police and local authorities when taking measures to tighten up on security, so that they can share information.

According to the British Educational Suppliers’ Association (BESA), there were 24,323 schools and academies in England in 2019. This included 391 at nursery, 16,769 at primary and 3,448 at secondary level.  There were also 1,044 special schools and academies and 352 Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). However, over the consultation period about security, only 26 schools and academies responded to the DfE.  The DfE said that 51% of respondents did not think that the guidance was enough and only 41% said that it was.

The DfE spokesperson said: “Our assessment is that these responses show that there is no consensus about whether the guidance should be more prescriptive than the consultation draft, or that an enabling document that directs schools and colleges to expert advice is a preferable approach.”

The DfE said it had rewritten the guidance to make it flow better and strengthened advice on the curriculum, police-school partnership arrangements, the value of developing relationships more widely, and testing recovery and business continuity.  The guidance stresses that schools and academies should “regularly test policies and handling plans”.

“Practice drills will identify where improvements can be made and enable you to assess what the wider residual effects of an incident are likely to be. You should consider involving neighbouring schools or colleges, local police, local authorities, academy trusts or other outside agencies in helping evaluate practice drills.”

Without wanting to scare schools and academies, because serious security incidents were rare, it was important for institutions to have robust policies to

  • reflect the balance between maintaining an open and welcoming environment for learners, parents and the wider community and protecting them from harm;
  • help create a culture in which staff and students recognise and understand the need to be more vigilant about their own safety and the safety and security of others; and
  • demonstrate an understanding of the issues that could impact on schools/academies, colleges and the wider community

It adds: “Plans and supporting procedures should

  • be based on a realistic assessment of the threats relevant to your school/academy or college;
  • demonstrate that there is a shared and common understanding about how to respond to identified threats;
  • be very clear about what is expected from the staff, students and the local community should an incident occur; and
  • draw on experience and expertise provided by the local authority, academy trust, police and others, such as local resilience forums.”

At a time when knife-crime among youths is rife and terrorists from extreme sections of society “take wing”, it is important for institutions to “consider and routinely review” security arrangements, policies and plans, states the guidance.

The guidance emphasises the need for every school, academy and college to appoint a lead person responsible for health and safety and security.   In addition, it urges educational institutions to develop local relationships with other bodies such as local authorities and the police to create networks where information on security can be shared.  According to BrowneJacobson, Solicitors, the National Police Chief’s Council will be producing its own guidance to inform schools, academies and colleges when to contact the police.

The security guidance also offers help on a school’s, academy’s and college’s

  • health and safety obligations,
  • planning for and managing incidents or emergencies which arise during and outside of normal working hours and
  • business continuity management.

Finally, the DfE has published several templates and checklists covering varying circumstances such as evacuations, terrorist incident responses and business continuity plans.

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