Lauren Paver – A Balancing Act: Could Security Experts Secure Our Schools?

According to a BBC survey, nearly one in five teachers in the UK has been attacked by a pupil this year, with an increase in other disruptive behaviours such as fighting, pushing, shoving, spitting, swearing, and chair-throwing. This statistic and a series of distressing incidents in secondary schools has pushed the topic of safety in schools into the forefront of public debate. The question is, should schools have more security in place to protect our children and teachers?

Unfortunately, there have been several headline grabbing tragedies fuelling this debate in recent years. The fatal stabbing of 61-year-old Ann Maguire by a student during a lesson at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds, and the stabbing of maths teacher Jamie Sansom at Tewkesbury Academy, highlight a growing trend of violence in educational settings. Only this week, a teenage girl was arrested after a knife attack at a school in Carmarthenshire, impacting two teachers and a pupil.

A poll conducted by NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers), involving over 6,500 union members, has shown a concerning trend: 89% of respondents believe that violent and abusive behaviour among pupils has increased over the past year.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) also reports a troubling rise in weekly incidents of violence and aggression, with over 72% of branches noting an increase over the last four years—a period marked by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to these frightening attacks and worrying statistics, the calls for implementing stringent security measures in schools has intensified. Lauren Paver, Commercial Director of Triton Security and a mother, finds herself in a difficult position. As an experienced security professional, she understands the benefits of increased security measures, such as airport-style checks, which could potentially protect students, teachers, and staff. However, she also recognises the potential downsides: “Introducing high-security measures could transform educational environments in a way that feels more restrictive than protective, potentially creating a prison-like atmosphere that is intimidating for children.”

Critics like Big Brother Watch argue that the overt use of surveillance technology and strict security protocols could infringe upon students’ privacy rights and create a mistrustful environment. They caution against a culture of surveillance that might alienate the very individuals it aims to protect.

The cost of implementing such security measures is significant, and questions about who should bear this cost are contentious. Typically, these expenses would fall to the government, and consequently, the taxpayers, raising debates about the allocation of public funds and the prioritisation of educational versus security needs.

Factors contributing to the increase in school violence are complex and multifaceted. Experts suggest a mix of societal and cultural shifts, including the breakdown of traditional family structures, the residual effects of lockdowns on youth behaviour, exposure to violence in media, and the rise of gang culture. Moreover, these issues are not confined to urban areas but are increasingly prevalent in rural schools as well.

Despite her professional inclination towards security, as a mother, Paver believes in preserving the sanctity of educational spaces. “Schools should be safe havens where mutual respect and a culture of safety are nurtured,” she states. While acknowledging the effectiveness of security measures already implemented in universities, she warns against adopting overly stringent, American-style security protocols that might alter social standards and expectations around parenting and community involvement.

“It’s vital we remember that the majority of students are respectful and well-behaved,” Paver adds, highlighting the importance of not letting the actions of a few overshadow the potential and goodwill of the many.

Other than supplying security equipment and guards. security companies could provide useful insights to help improve school safety. Specialising in risk management and conflict resolution they are a potential resource for education facilities by offering an approach to improving school security without resorting to severe measures. After all it’s the day job of security companies to devise strategies that reinforce safety while maintaining a peaceful environment. Lauren suggests conflict resolution workshops and crisis management training would enable staff and students to gain essential skills to de-escalate tensions and respond effectively to emergencies, promoting a culture of preparedness.

She also suggests that pressures on police resources could be minimised by implementing mobile security guard units to provide rapid emergency response capabilities, adding a layer of reassurance without the pervasive presence of security personnel. The placement of non-intrusive guards at entry points further ensures a safe learning environment by deterring potential threats and controlling access. Lauren emphasises the importance of these nuanced approaches: “While stringent security measures have their place, as a parent I feel that we must also focus on preventive strategies and community involvement to truly safeguard our schools.  Parents need to take responsibility, it’s not all down to teachers. We must find the right balance that protects our children and educators without making schools feel like fortresses.”

As the debate continues, it becomes clear that finding a balance between ensuring security and maintaining a nurturing educational environment is one of the most pressing challenges facing educators and policymakers today. Instead of rushing into heavy security measures after alarming incidents, we can utilise security companies and use their expertise to assist schools in adopting a softer, more thoughtful approach to safety.