Monday, 4 May 2015

Making a Profit from Education: Buzzers, Gates and Locks

Well, after academies, PFI, free schools, there are many other little interesting mechanisms pickpocketing the parents' purses.

This one started as a result of an awful shooting in a Scottish school. I was a parent-governor at Royal Park Primary School Leeds at the time, and like all governing bodies everywhere we debated security.

By this time I was also, by trade a peripatetic music teacher, and on my travels around Leeds I began noticing the first signs of new buzzers, gates and locks. Undoubtedly they would make it harder for the criminal to enter their schools but they were taking their toll on the length of my school day, and on my patience.  And I couldn't help but think that the makers of buzzers, gates and locks were clearly clearing up here.

One day it was absolutely pouring with rain, I was standing outside School X, failing miserably to attract Reception. Beside me was the van-driver trying to deliver his parcels to the school. I was  irritated, getting wetter. As was the van-driver. "I've got 67 more drops today" he informed me. The thought of standing in the rain outside another 4 schools was irritating me. 67! It didn't bear thinking about.

Eventually Reception spoke through the intercom. We told them who we were and we were let in. We could have been anyone. Some schools did get video links, but very few.

Having sold nearly all the schools new buzzers, gates and locks, the companies then turned their thoughts to signing-in machines. if you have ever been embarrassed by your passport photo, take a look at these. Having finally got past the remote controlled gate you now face a machine which invites you to enter a few personal details, and may or may not print off a sticky badge for you. The worst of these leave glue on your jacket for weeks, probably best to attach them to the ID badge that you already. This badge has a photo and declares you work for the Council and have been CRB/DBS- checked. But the school now wants you to prove that you have just walked in through Reception.

And some schools are so pleased that the machine saves their staff time checking their visitors and regularly visiting teachers, you find the staff don't even look up to greet you. I would have thought that, at this stage, eye contact would be wise. Well it would make you feel welcome. Anyone could walk past claiming to be the peri.

Two things were happening simultaneously:

1.In the name of security, expensive impersonal time-wasting machines were totally failing to protect the staff and children inside the building.

2.Those of us who for years had begun to consider ourselves part of the school team, now had a label to wear and the label says Visitor [you are not one of us].

I don't mind wearing this badge when I do indeed visit schools irregularly, but I feel that the makers of the time-wasting signing-in machines have also created a nice little wedge between the schools and the local education department workers [music peris, signers, speech therapists etc], and it is not appropriate. We all should be working as a team in the education of our children. The privateers are creating barriers.

I debate this regularly with my schools. I am happy to sign in so that, in the event of a fire, there is  record of how many people there are on the premises. Some schools accept that I am indeed part of their team and are happy that my Council ID is ID enough. Some still argue that this was a safety requirement in the case of a fire. I have yet to work out how that would work.

Meanwhile, back at Royal Park, Headteacher Extraordinaire, Rita Samuel declared that all parents and other members of the local community were welcome on and inside school premises every morning and afternoon, and there would be no barriers. As governor I had argued against her view but I quickly saw that I had been wrong. A little trust goes a long way. [And in the end was it not the insecurity of the gun laws rather than the insecurity of our gates and locks and buzzers that did the damage?]



  1. I've worked in a secondary school without adequate security. There were constant burglaries; people literally just walked in off the streets and helped themselves to computers. On top of that permanently excluded students used to let to return to the site to smash things up and rifle through draws.I've also worked in schools where parents would try to settle scores with teachers who disciplined their children. I have every sympathy for schools who invest in proper security.

  2. I quite agree with this comment; did not mean to suggest no security. I also lived through the excitement of schools acquiring perimeter fences. I am talking about over-the-top inappropriate security where the receptionists don't clock you personally as you walk past, but rely on machines to assess your suitability to enter their school.