Every parent dreads the phone call from school. Usually, it’s the usual missing homework, fighting or behaviour problems in school. However, as school safety becomes even more important, the fear among parents is growing too. Schools are responsible for creating a safe and relaxed environment conducive to effective learning. This role is becoming more challenging as threats against staff and pupils evolve to include guns and knives, especially in UK schools. What is the scale of the problem? What can schools do to protect school pupils and staff better? This article discusses the problem particularly here in the UK, in America and cites global examples too.
When it comes to classroom safety, violence and other physical threats of safety jump to the forefront of many people’s minds. However, the threats to pupils, staff and visitor safety are not just violence. General health and safety apply as much to schools as any other environment. Schools are a working environment for teachers and support staff after all. Schools garner special attention because of the numbers of children they are tasked with keeping safe from a wide range of risks daily.
A popular position of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is that Schools should be as safe as necessary and not as safe as possible. While attempting to ensure schools are safe environments for students and workers, the aim should be to create risk awareness instead of risk aversion. Schools, after all, are in the business of educating the citizens of tomorrow. Focusing on preventing accidents in schools is only half the solution. The other half is to build a culture of sensible risk management while enabling staff and pupils to develop the skills to assess and manage risk.
School safety is a global challenge
America, India, Trinidad or Pakistan may seem thousands of miles away when you open a daily newspaper and read about the latest stabbing of a student in London just outside the school gates. At that moment it feels so much like a unique and local challenge but that’s far from the truth.
Schools all around the globe face various safety and security challenges. The USA where gun laws are more liberal than say the UK and other European cities face the risk of guns in schools. However, this is in addition to the common challenges such as fire risk, theft, bullying and other environmental factors. Earthquakes, gang violence, poisonous snakes and spiders and terrorism are an example of the diverse nature of risks schools face around the world.
The nature of school safety risks
Coming back closer to home, let’s look at some of the safety risks local schools face. Fire is an ever-present risk in the modern built environment. Schools should have fire risks assessments and plans in place for the safe evacuation and accountability of pupils and staff in the event of a fire on school property. Pupils should be aware of the fire drill and what to do when the fire alarm sounds. Training should also consider the dangers of false alarms and there should be consequences for doing so.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) produces a health and safety checklist for the classroom which it develops together with various school authorities. This tool helps teachers and other support staff to assess and control common risks in the classrooms. This includes items such as movement in the classrooms, electrical equipment safety, suitability and condition of the furniture, slips trips and falls plus more. This is a vital tool for improving classroom safety which students may also be trained to participate in. For example, reporting and not using broken furniture.
Each part of the school estate offers different safety challenges. For example, the risks in science are inherently different from the risks in the fashion classroom. This is largely due to the nature of the activities students carry out in each classroom, hence the classroom checklist will cater to all these different risks.
Emergency Planning in Schools
Beyond the common risks which students and staff encounter daily, there are less common occurrences which schools need to plan for. Examples include an armed intruder scenario, serious injury to staff or pupils or natural disasters. UK schools must have an emergency plan in place for most, if not all the above scenarios.
Effective communication during an emergency
Whatever form an emergency in a school takes, there must be an effective communication process in place to ensure the safe handling of the incident. Take a school lockdown as an example, how is it initiated? How do all staff and students know a lockdown is in place and how will the staff communicate with relevant authorities to account for every pupil and staff member?
Using technology to create a robust incident communication system enhances school and classroom safety in several ways. Firstly, it ensures the staff and students involved in the incident receive the help they need as quickly as possible. Take as a scenario a student suffers a fall in a classroom and becomes unconscious. Traditionally a teacher may have to send a student to find the headteacher or a designated staff first aider. Vital seconds may be lost this way affecting the outcome of the incident for the student involved.
Safety at School (S@S) is an innovative solution designed to provide staff with the peace of mind when dealing with challenging situations in the classroom. In the scenario above, the teacher would have used their S@S device to request the attendance of the first aider to their location. Using such a system reduces response times and ensures the right staff to deal with the emergency do receive the notification immediately. There is no lost time due to panicking students running around looking for help.
Technology has a key role to play in enhancing security and safety in schools. Other examples include panic buttons in classrooms, cloud-based alarm notifications and other alert systems. This article touches upon the growing concerns for school safety in the UK. It also reveals how safety in class and school premises takes different forms all around the world. Dealing with safety risks requires staff training, planning and processes to make safety a culture in institutions. If you would like more information on improving classroom safety in particular and school safety in general, contact ANT Telecom for up to date advice on the latest school safety technology and systems.