`You cannot make our schools a safe haven'

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

No amount of security measures can protect schools against a determined gunman, heads and teachers said yesterday.

A government working party on school security set up after the death of Philip Lawrence, the London headmaster, is expected to review arrangements to protect schools against intruders. Earlier this month the Government proposed new legislation to give police powers to search pupils for weapons on school premises.

Some schools have tightened security since an intruder knifed a pupil at Hall Garth School, Middlesbrough, two years ago. More schools are insisting that visitors sign in and passes and badges have been introduced.

At Hall Garth, the side door through which the killer entered has become exit-only and there is closed circuit television.

Some schools, especially those in inner cities, go further. The Archbishop Tenison school, in Lambeth, south London, has a 15ft barbed wire fence and only one open entrance: all the others are protected by electronic entry phones. Closed circuit television monitors the premises day and night. Themeasures cost pounds 37,000. Brian Jones, the head, said they had proved effective but added: "If someone is hell bent on that sort of devastation, I don't think there is anything you can do."

Many schools outside cities, especially primary schools, have done little to fortify themselves.Some are hampered by their design. Others by a wish to remain welcoming to the community.

John Dunford, president of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Those who designed schools and colleges over the last 50 years did not foresee these possibilities. Some schools have been deliberately designed not to be secure." He said a school in Coventry was designed so that the public could walk through it on their waythrough a shopping precinct.

Yet there is a growing recognition that schools will have to change. Mr Dunford's association has just produced a booklet which advises heads to examine a series of security measures: doors which open only from the inside, security cameras and a single entrance.

The two main teachers unions differ over safety in schools. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers,said: "Unless schools are seen to be tightening up maniacs will see schools as a soft target."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the incident should be kept in perspective. "We don't want to make schools fortresses," he said.