While impressing inspectors in terms of the quality of teaching and learning environment is a large part of obtaining a good Ofsted report, ensuring that school security measures are of a high quality are also key components, writes James Kelly, chief executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA)
Educational establishments can face a wide range of threats year round, including potential bomb and gun attacks, walk-in thefts, threats against students and staff as well as theft of personal data and assets.
As such, school officials have a duty of care to protect their staff and pupils from such threats, as well as a responsibility to provide a safe place in which to teach and learn.
Failing to provide such an environment can have detrimental effects on a school, not just in terms of potentially life threatening situations, but also in terms of reputational damage. In fact, this year, there have already been reports of schools failing their Ofsted inspections due to a lack of efficient security.
In January, Barton Clough Primary School in Stretford was put into special measures due to security failures. Having previously been rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted inspectors, Manchester Evening News reported that the school had failed in their duty to keep children safe.
This assessment was made due to the fact that security checks on staff working with children did not meet requirements, policies on child protection were out of date and the monitoring of visitors entering the school was inadequate.
Following that, in March, two separate schools in Cumbria were also placed into special measures by Ofsted due to security failures.
Kirby Stephen Grammar School, a small secondary school, failed their Ofsted due to a lack of appropriate perimeter security; the News and Star reported that despite being praised for almost all aspects of its education, the school was penalised for their inadequate site security.
Ofsted criticised school leaders for neglecting to put in place the appropriate security measures that would minimise identified potential risks to pupils, with the school being too accessible to the public.
This decision came after the Queen Katherine School in Kendal was also placed into special measures due to safeguarding and security issues.
According to the Westmoreland Gazette, in their report, Ofsted inspectors noted that “arrangements for safeguarding are not effective” and “people are not safe.” Perimeter security appeared to be an issue, as the inspection came just one day after an incident at the school where police were called after three teenagers had managed to enter the grounds.
As a result of the decision, the school is now moving forward with £30,000 plans that will include a perimeter fence in order to improve security. While arrangements are being made to make improvements, Ofsted’s decision has been met with disapproval by school officials.
According to the News and Star, after Kirby Stephen Grammar School failed their report, headteacher Ruth Houston and chairman of the governing body, Simon Bennett, sent a letter to parents stating that they believed the decision was “a failing of the inspection system, not the school, if an overall judgement is defined by a lack of a fence or not enough locks on doors, rather than the excellent teaching, leadership, behaviour and outcomes of the school.”
While they may not agree that security should be reflected in the report, these outcomes do go to show that school security must be taken seriously, with security measures being a key aspect of a school’s design from the word go.
CONSULTING THE EXPERT
Schools can be very complex in their nature, with transient populations and diverse in their designs. As such, considering all of the different security risks and selecting security measures that fit seamlessly with the design of the building, can be a somewhat difficult process.
Rather than simply choosing measures to try and pass an inspection, it is essential to choose security products and services that have longevity and will effectively secure both people and assets. While it is important to make a school safe, having extremely overt or intimidating security measures can also potentially leave people feeling unsafe.
Therefore, it is important to choose measures that integrate with the building’s structure. In these cases, it can be beneficial to enlist the help of a security consultant to help identify the best products and services to suit the school. A reputable, professional security consultant can carry out a range of services, including threat and risk assessments, security audits and reviews, development of security policies, procedures and strategies, crisis management and business continuity planning.
In order for a school to fully understand the different risks it faces, it is important to firstly identify the risk register. The risk register is a key risk management tool that can help a business identify the day-to-day risks that it faces and the best ways to counteract them.
Security consultants can provide independent and professional support to ensure that any security measures required by the client will correspond to both existing and emerging threats, whilst complementing a schools’ environment and operation in order to protect students, staff, building, assets and reputations.
Once the risk register is identified, the consultant can make recommendations as to which type of security measures will be best to mitigate risks – whether it is access control, intruder alarms or physical security measures around the perimeter.
The Price Vs Quality Debate
When it comes to sourcing security solutions, in times of economic uncertainty, financial pressures can mean that key decision makers let price and cost savings dominate when procuring security solutions.
As such, corners can be cut when it comes to the quality of a product. For schools, however, the safety of staff and students should always be a top priority and low value solutions could put these factors in jeopardy. With this in mind, earlier this year, the BSIA commissioned a white paper titled The (Real) Price of Security Solutions – a white paper on the challenges of buying and selling high-quality security solutions.
The paper is authored by Dr Terence Tse, an associate professor of finance at ESCP Europe Business School, and explores the price versus quality debate from the perspectives of both buyers and sellers of security solutions, in order to identify the relative advantages and disadvantages between low-priced and high-quality solutions.
Unsurprisingly, one of the headline findings of the paper suggests that end users would find it far more beneficial to invest in high‑quality solutions. It also pointed to the fact that security providers would be better off collaborating with their customers in order to develop a good understanding of the buyer’s needs, that way, they can provide them with suitable solutions that not only meet with specifications, but perform well over time.
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, and low-cost solutions can mean they are low-capacity, creating further unwanted costs down the line should an incident occur. Such costs can include direct losses, such as financial costs associated with the incident, and indirect costs, such as costs over and above the immediate costs. Even if a major incident does not occur, other costs can arise down the line, such as premature replacements where new systems are needed sooner than expected.
THE RISK OF AN INFERIOR SOLUTION
The ‘real’ price of a security solution can come to light when something goes wrong, such as a failure in footage being recorded or an alarm not correctly alerting the right staff to an incident.
This can compromise the reputation and safety of a school and defeats the whole purpose of investing in a security solution in the first place. However, shrinking budgets can often push these risks to the side-lines, and it is not just end-users that are putting price first, but suppliers may also respond to budget constraints by offering lower-priced solutions, often at the expense of standards and quality.
Talking about this issue, Pauline Norstrom, former chairman of the BSIA who spearheaded the white paper, commented: “I have been in the industry some 16 years, and before that, in tech marketing across a broad spectrum of industries. During that time, I have watched and experienced the manufacturers race to the lowest selling price, compromising on materials and functionality to do so and often at the cost of UK jobs in the process.
I have seen the industry rush to the cheapest price to win the bid, with companies offering solutions at very low margins and being left with substantial additional costs they cannot cover. In addition, end users are often provided with an inferior solution which does not solve their problems.”
The white paper hopes to communicate to security buyers the valuable benefits of procuring solutions on the basis of quality, emphasising the importance of considering the wider business impact of security purchase decisions. “I hope that the paper will educate the security buyer as to the art of buying a specialised security solution, rather than a bunch of part numbers or just cost per hour; instead to consider the value of the sum of the parts bringing a larger benefit than those parts working in isolation.
It is the concept of the whole system, whether a service or product offering that the security industry needs to explain to the security buyer, and I hope that this white paper achieves that,” Pauline added.
The full white paper can be downloaded from the BSIA’s website free of charge on the publications page of the website. L