Action urged over security in classrooms

Teachers' conference: Dunblane tragedy heightens fears
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Education Correspondent

Teachers have called for video surveillance, panic alarms and local committees with strong legal powers to protect them against intruders following the Dunblane tragedy.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference, meeting in Torquay, heard that teachers felt increasingly threatened because of a lack of security on school premises. The deaths of 16 children at Dunblane Primary School and of head teacher Philip Lawrence, stabbed to death outside his London secondary school in December, were cited as examples of the dangers they faced.

The 150,000-member association has asked ministers to set up School Safe Commissions which would try to solve security problems on a local level. It will press the schools minister, Robin Squire, on the issue when he speaks to its conference today. Strategies might include cutting the number of entrances to a school to prevent intruders.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, said a Harris poll carried out on behalf of the union showed 84 per cent of people believed meetings between parents, governors, teachers, police and education officials would lead to improved security.

These commissions should be given statutory powers and should be responsible for producing policies on security and violence. Measures to prevent attacks by pupils might include a "red card" system described to the conference yesterday by David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman. Under the system, which Mr Blunkett saw operating in a school in Newcastle, children were given a yellow card and punished if they offended. Three yellow cards led to a red card, and parents would be called in.

Mr Smith said: "There is no simple answer to the issue of violence in our schools and colleges. We can only beat this problem if we work together. Schools cannot be fortresses."

Sally-Ann Webster, a teacher from Humberside, who joined the profession after leaving the police, said she had never felt so vulnerable as she now did in her classroom.

"As a police woman I was happy to walk the streets on my own at 2am, to interview people on my own in the police station because I only had to press a button and someone would come to my assistance. I have no feeling of security in the classroom," she said.

Mr Blunkett told the conference that Labour would look for new ways of combating violence in schools. "But while the criminal justice system must pick up the pieces when young people go off the track, the education system can do much to keep our young people on the rails in the first place. Prevention is better than cure," he said.