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Lockdown in Schools – Do we need a standard procedure?

With the focus very firmly on Prevent strategy at the moment, and recent events in London and Manchester adding immediacy to the need for increased security measures in schools, it is no wonder that the issue of lockdowns is in the news.

Teaching union NASUWT are calling for the government to issue a standard policy on how to implement a cohesive procedure should a lockdown become necessary. At the moment, although many schools do have some form of procedure in place and there are some general published guidelines on emergency procedures, the level and form of implementation varies.

A lockdown would normally be triggered by the potential or actual invasion of the school by a hostile presence.  While this seems like a remote possibility, and indeed incidents of this nature are thankfully few and far between, just this week a school in Stuttgart found itself in a situation where a suspected gunman was at loose on the premises and we are all familiar with the seemingly regular incidents of shootings in US schools. Here in the UK, while we all remember the horror of the Dunblane incident with sadness, thankfully we have been relatively free of other major incidents. However, we do see individual incidents such as the recent events in Merseyside where a man armed with a knife was believed to have entered the school after fleeing police. The school premises were locked down following the speedy response from constabulary the children and teachers allowed to leave as soon as possible, however this must still have been a terrifying incident for those caught up in it. In addition, we must all face up to the potential, no matter how remote the possibility, of a terrorist incident.

From the point of view of the school there is the standard expectation that it will seek to protect the children and staff so the question raised is really more one of how is that to be achieved rather than should a protection procedure be in place. Other safety procedures, fire drills for example, are commonplace because effective fire marshalling and suitable equipment are all required by law. Staff are usually all trained in fire procedures and the need to evacuate in an emergency is almost second nature to everyone in the school. One potential issue therefore is that the lockdown procedure really asks everyone to behave in the opposite way to the fire drill. Instead of leaving the building and keeping exits clear we are being asked to countermand years of training and stay put and barricade ourselves in. A further complication is the addition of a new method of alerting staff to the problem which needs to be sufficiently different from an existing alarm to ensure the wrong action is not taken. Add to all the above the training needs of the staff and the understanding of appropriate response required from the kids and it seems logical to have a national set standard.

However clearly while some advice such as how to barricade a classroom will probably be standard some flexibility is likely to be needed in circumstances such as incidents occurring at break times or during lunch. Late teens are likely to behave very differently in an emergency than a reception class. Any nationally imposed procedures will therefore need some element of flexibility to allow for local circumstances.

The question of lockdown procedures is likely to rumble on for some time and hopefully a suitable solution will be found, until then the onus is going to still rest with the individual schools.