When it comes to school security, having security guards on site are often seen as invaluable assets. For one thing, simply having a physical security presence in place at a school or college can prove useful in providing staff and pupils with a reliable first point of contact in case of an emergency.
In addition, security officers can also offer staff, pupils and their parents with the essential peace of mind that they are safe and protected from outside vulnerabilities within their educational establishment.
When deployed in schools, security officers are available to deal with a wide range of issues that schools’ staff may not be able to handle as effectively alone: from escorting uninvited visitors off the premises and helping to deter substance abuse among pupils to traffic and parking management for functions.
Schools and colleges can also be an attractive target for petty thieves looking for unattended equipment held on-site, therefore the impact of having a uniformed security officer as a deterrent against such offenses really cannot be ignored.
Day-to-day activities Uniformed officers are also a natural focal point for visitors with enquiries. A security team can be useful in this respect, helping to redirect enquiries away from the busy school reception area. Allowing staff to focus on their responsibilities towards pupils’ learning and safety, while officers take care of supplementary but essential activities associated with the smooth-running of the school.
In fact, security officers often build up positive rapports with staff and pupils; rather than being an unapproachable presence, they can interact positively with students, addressing any concerns sensitively and efficiently and helping to reinforce the essential values that a school or college is a safe and secure environment in which to learn.
Security guarding in schools Security guards have found their place in a wide range of educational establishments for a number of years, now. In fact, many prestige schools and colleges across York have been opting for manned security solutions to help deal with issues, such as petty theft or challenging behaviour, for as long as 16 years. During this time, the role of a security officer has evolved significantly: from standard security assurance to a more holistic support presence. But it has always been regarded as an essential aspect of site protection.
Developments within the provision of security-guarding solutions in schools include traditional porter duties, now increasingly being taken on by security teams, or the increase of security guarding provisions at particularly demanding times of the year.
Enforcing a drug-free environment A key function of security officers is to help deter substance abuse among pupils, helping to inspire a safe environment for students to learn within. As such, another interesting aspect of security that has seen a rise in recent years is the use of sniffer dogs within schools and colleges. Many educational establishments recognise the need to take a proactive stance in order to encourage a healthy, drug-free learning environment and sniffer dogs are seen as a beneficial way to help deter pupils from using drugs, as well as raising awareness of the dangers and enforcing zero-tolerance policies.
South Staffordshire College recently made the decision to safeguard its learners and take action to enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy. The college’s learner journey manager, Ali Hanson, recognised the need for the wellbeing of learners by increasing awareness and understanding of substance misuse in the form of a bespoke multi-layered awareness programme, with the welfare of the learners as its focal point. To assist in this methodology, South Staffordshire College enlisted the help of BSIA-member Securitas.
The college has four main campuses in Tamworth, Lichfield, Cannock and Rodbaston. Each month, Ali Hanson and specialist solutions manager Mark Lloyd, work in partnership with the local police force to undertake a number of controlled searches over the various college sites.
The searches take place in the learner classrooms by Securitas’ trained dog handler Barrie Woodburn and his trusted companion Milo. Prior to the searches, Ali talks through the process with the staff and learners, providing them with the opportunity to engage in conversation and, if necessary, discuss any concerns they may have.
Impressive support process If a learner is highlighted by the dog, they are asked to leave the room and are initially spoken to by the police in private. However, this does not signal an end to the learner’s time at college, but instead means the start of an impressive support process. This approach has meant that not one learner who has accessed the drug-related support has had to leave the college. Each learner is assigned a college mentor to talk to and, if necessary, can signpost them to external agencies, such as counselling or drug support agencies.
Over the academic year, the searches have provided a platform for the college to build a strong partnership with the police. The local neighbourhood policing units support the drug programme by incorporating many different methods, such as officers including the campus sites on their beat routes and the delivery of bespoke drug misuse education talks.
Discussing the programme, Ali commented: “We have a duty of care to safeguard our learners and provide a secure environment where they are able to learn. The service provides a support network that we hope will encourage healthy living and promote a drug‑free culture. It’s about working together to help address the needs of the young people. It has been a huge success: one which we hope will continue to develop through 2013/14.”
Since the introduction of the searches, the college has seen a large number of success stories emerge from learners who have been highlighted by the Securitas drug detection team. Ali explains: “The service works, we have had 32 learners highlighted by the drugs dogs, and all 32 have been retained in college. Some have gone on to engage in drug intervention programmes, some have been part of the college mentoring programme and some have accessed counselling.”
Discussing the benefits of the drug detection team, Mark Lloyd said: “A well-trained team can search quickly and effectively with minimal disruption to the customer. This ‘stand-off’ method of screening is the least intrusive and can be tailored to the environment as per the customer’s needs. Securitas train our dogs to search for all major drug substances, working in partnership with our customers to provide a formidable crime deterrent.”
The importance of quality The role of the private security industry has become increasingly more important over recent years, and the BSIA works hard to raise awareness around the importance of standards of quality and professionalism.
In 2001, the Private Security Industry Act was introduced, facilitating the creation of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the government body responsible for managing the licensing process across the sector.
Ever since, the legal requirement for security officers to be licensed has had a significantly positive impact upon public perceptions of the UK’s private security industry, by reducing the freedom of criminal elements to operate in the sector, while providing tangible evidence of an individuals’ eligibility and suitability to provide a professional service.
Often, in-house security staff – those employed directly by schools rather than through a security provider – do not need to have a licence in order to operate, and may not offer a reputable service.
For schools and colleges, licensed security professionals guarantee a high level of service and quality, which is very important considering the public-facing role of front-line security personnel, and the sensitivity required when dealing with students, pupils and parents. For this reason, many people are often shocked to discover that the same licensing law that applies to contracted-out security guards does not apply to in-house security.
Therefore, not choosing a private security company could result in leaving staff, students and visitors more vulnerable and exposed to risk. In addition, contracted security also means that you are guaranteed cover, even if an officer is absent or sick, as the school can call upon the private security firm to provide replacements and sort out any staffing issues.