The Killing at Hall Garth: Obstacles to total security: Judith Judd examines whether schools should be turned into 'fortified premises'

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AFTER an intruder armed with a fake gun and a machete held a class in a Birmingham school to ransom last summer, the school briefly employed a security guard.

But the guard, paid for by an anonymous well-wisher, went back to his firm after the alarm at Handsworth Wood Girls School had died down.

The impossibility of protecting schools from rare, though tragic, incidents such as the one in Middlesbrough was emphasised last night by Peter Smith, head of Hall Garth school. 'I don't think we should panic or overreact because of one incident, terrible though it has been,' he told BBC Television news.

In the last decade schools have been encouraged to be open and welcoming to parents and the community, and most teachers argue strongly that nothing should endanger the progress that has been made.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the attack raised 'the awful prospect of whether schools should become fortified premises'. Alan Parker, education officer of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said it would be too expensive for schools to employ guards. He added that some authorities had issued guidelines on how schools should monitor and challenge strangers.

Four years ago a Health and Safety Executive report advised local authorities and schools to prepare strategies for dealing with violence towards teachers, but the executive says it does not know how many have done so.

Mr de Gruchy said: 'There are no guidelines for this kind of thing. We would advise a teacher in this situation to do exactly what this teacher did - to do their best to calm a situation but not to enter into unarmed combat if reason failed.'

He said John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, should spend some of the money he used for glossy brochures on providing all teachers with walkie-talkies. The union already sells the alarms to its members at pounds 5 each.

Some teachers in inner-city schools already carry walkie-talkies. Police patrolled each evening outside Quintin Kynaston School in north London for a brief period earlier this year after fighting between rival gangs.

School security in Britain is geared to protecting buildings. Schools are spending about pounds 20m a year on closed-circuit television and preventing theft and vandalism, but no guidance or training is given to teachers by the Government or local authorities on dealing with violent incidents such as the one in Middlesbrough.

Malcolm Shorney, Cleveland's deputy county education officer, said security at all schools in the county would have to be be reviewed.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the Government should fund improvements to school buildings so that access was limited to one main entrance and that other outside doors should only open outwards, like theatre exits. The entrance could then be watched over by a secretary and any intruders challenged.

The Department for Education emphasised last night that there would be no hasty decisions about measures which might be taken as a result of the attack.

(Photograph omitted)