Safeguarding and Security: Partners in tackling crime

Colin McKeown, Senior Consultant at NW Systems Group, discusses why safeguarding and security must now work hand in hand

Crime is a long-standing issue within the education sector, and like the many safeguarding-related risks it faces, it is one that cannot always be prevented, but can be mitigated to better manage its impact. It was recently announced that almost 1,400 weapons were seized over the last year in UK schools, a year-on-year rise of 20 per cent[1]. Senior police officers remarked there had been a ‘worrying’ increase in young people with knives. At the same time, the last year has been marked by a period of instability, with increases in the occurrence of hate crime and racist incidents[2]. This has translated into UK education, with the number of hate crimes almost doubling in schools during this time last year.

Senior staff in the secondary and tertiary sectors have a clear, statutory responsibility when it comes to safeguarding, but following through on individual policies can be a challenge, especially in light of the rapidly evolving landscape. There is certainly no magic wand to tackling these growing crime levels, although many education leaders are suggesting topics such as racism and extremism should be tackled at the core by enhancing the existing pedagogical approaches to personal and social education, as part of the curriculum. Whilst professionals acknowledge that they have a responsibility to ensure that they are doing all they can to mitigate risk, reducing the chance of incidents occurring and reacting quickly to minimise the impact of an event, this can be difficult to implement.

With the growth in pupil numbers against a backdrop of tighter funding, investing in security systems has sometimes been overlooked or left in the hands of the ICT team to deal with out of an already weakened ICT budget. The net effect of this has left many schools, colleges and tertiary institutions with legacy security systems that are no longer fit for purpose. Even in post-BSF schools, the ‘value engineering’ of a new build or refurbished site often means the cameras are not fulfilling their originally intended purpose. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Tony Porter, has called for more effective surveillance to put a stop to the use of out of date and poorly maintained systems. Similar calls have been made by the British Security Industry Association, calling for the use of high quality intruder alarms, and their integration with security systems such as access control and CCTV to ensure education sites are protected around the clock.

Crucially, key education stakeholders also need to be trained to utilise technology so they can incorporate it into their safeguarding and pastoral support strategies. This will help identify the areas lagging so that a strategic security plan can be put in place to address deficiencies. Of course, beyond the challenge of upskilling staff, difficulties can be caused by employing legacy technology, such as missing footage or low quality evidence that is unsuitable for use in court. The use of security systems is being placed under greater scrutiny, with bodies such as ATL and the ICO producing clear guidelines to ensure security systems are fit for purpose. With the Data Protection Act set to be replaced by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, institutions can also expect to see a greater emphasis on the security of personally identifiable information these systems process, or risk fines of up to 2% of annual turnover or €10m for the least serious of breaches.

To ensure security systems are effective, compliant and also safe from outsider threats such as cybersecurity breaches, education institutions must review the effectiveness of their technical infrastructure on a regular basis. Combined with a broader risk analysis of current safeguarding systems and processes, leaders can be confident that their use of technology is not only in line with the sector’s requirements, but also supports safeguarding policies to maximum effect. With points ranging from firmware updates to vetting security providers, NW Systems outlines an 8-point security best practice checklist in its education white paper to help institutions analyse their current situation.  

To find out more, download the newly released white paper: Security – A Need for Effective Risk Mitigation in Education.