What Are The Biggest Threats To Security At A School?

When protecting schools, keeping all children, staff, parents, and visitors safe is always the priority. Although the headlines have been dominated by stories of cybersecurity breaches in schools, it’s important to remember the continued importance of physical security to protect and prevent crime in the education sector.

Churchill has written previously about the increase in knife crime, just one area of violent crime that has increased in recent years. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of recorded violent offences has risen by 20% between 2022-2023 alone, compared to pre-pandemic levels. These rises in security breaches have understandably left staff, pupils, and parents with concern.

As a leading provider of security services, we understand this concern and are here to provide support with our range of security solutions, helping to keep schools safe from these threats.

Understanding the different types of security threats to schools is the first step in keeping our schools safe. We will be looking at the top security risks at UK schools, and the specific measures that can be taken to prevent these breaches.


The Security Risks Facing UK Schools


1.Theft of School and Personal Property

Educational buildings are full of equipment intended to enhance learning. Science laboratories, ICT suites and gyms all contain high-value equipment susceptible to theft from inside and outside sources. Theft from schools not only causes financial detriment, but damage to pupils’ learning.

To help schools prevent theft, the Department of Education has published its Site Security Guidance, which recommends installing facial recognition CCTV cameras in the following areas:

  • Entrances
  • IT suites
  • Offices
  • Locations with little natural surveillance
  • Circulation areas (inside and out)

The guidance also recommends the installation of a type A monitored alarm, an observed alarm system that can facilitate an immediate response to any security risk. The Department of Education recommends the installation of a type A alarm in areas containing high-value equipment, particularly IT suites.

CCTV installation not only acts as a deterrent to potential thieves but also makes it easier to hold perpetrators responsible if a breach occurs.

Equally, personal theft can leave students feeling vulnerable, with commonly stolen items ranging from mobile devices to school uniforms and PE kits, adding financial pressure to parents who are already predicted to spend an average of £230.40 on school uniforms per child in 2023.

In both instances, theft remains a high-security risk in UK schools, with costly repercussions.


2.Physical Threats Towards Students and Staff

Back in June, we published an article highlighting the threat of knife crime in UK schools. It is an unfortunate fact that weaponised attacks remain a high-security risk in schools and a safety concern for all.

We revealed that amongst teenage boys specifically, the rate of knife crime is on the rise; the rate of homicide with a sharp instrument among 13 to 19-year-olds is the highest it’s been on record according to the latest ONS figures. It’s clear from the data that the risk of weaponised attacks at UK schools should not be understated.

The government is taking action to reduce these statistics, including new legislation and continual review of data. In January, the Serious Violence Duty came into effect, specifically increasing collaboration between schools and local government to prevent these incidents.

Other recent government measures include a £1.8m funding increase in initiatives designed to prevent and deter knife crime, in addition to the recruitment of 20,000 additional police officers.

While these steps provide some comfort, taking proactive additional security measures is crucial to minimise these threats at UK schools. Doing so can provide deterrence against both weaponised and non-weaponised violence, another type of physical threat present in UK schools. According to YouGov, 15% of secondary school teachers experience violence at least once a month, placing teachers at a high-security risk.

Data-led research has proven that the presence of a security guard makes targeted areas much less susceptible to a variety of crimes, reducing against-person crimes by 31%. Investing in private security is a proven method of safeguarding both staff and students from these types of risks, minimising the level of threat.


3. Drugs, Alcohol and Other Prohibited Substances 

Other forms of security risk come from possessions bought onto school premises’, particularly alcohol and other age-restricted goods. Almost half of people under the age of 18 reported having problems with alcohol, according to a government report released in February 2023, and underage alcohol consumption across the UK remains higher than the average across Europe according to research conducted by Devon County Council.

The harmful effects of underage alcohol consumption are well-documented, from developmental problems to an increased likelihood of engaging in harmful behaviours. Under-18s are at particular risk of alcohol poisoning due to their lower body weight, in addition to permanent brain and liver damage.

Aside from health issues, underage alcohol consumption has also been linked to poorer performance at school and an increased likelihood of experiencing alcohol-related issues in adulthood. According to Drinkaware, children who start drinking before age 13 are more likely to skip classes and be excluded, resulting in lower grades and worsened mental health problems.

Similarly, illegal drug consumption remains a prevalent security threat for schools across the UK. This Spring, data released from Statista indicated that 12% of boys and 13% of girls age 15 reported taking drugs in the last month. The health implications of this range from worsening mental health conditions to harming developmental processes of the pre-frontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for skills such as decision-making and self-control.

Although education surrounding alcohol and drugs is now compulsory in state-funded England and Wales schools, this does not eradicate the risk of substances being brought onto the school site and distributed. The presence of a security guard can reduce this security risk with bag searches, in line with school policy. Another measure that can prevent drug and alcohol misuse is canine security at public events hosted on the school premises, to detect harmful substances before they are inside the grounds.


4.Vandalism During Term-Time and Holidays

In August 2023, we highlighted how vandalism remains one of the highest security threats in the UK. Our article highlights how vacant properties are at most risk, making schools a particular target due to the long holidays over Easter, summer and Christmas.

Between 2022 and 2023 alone, there were more than 500,000 recorded incidents of vandalism, according to data from Statista. The most common forms of vandalism are graffiti, smashed windows, and stolen metal.

Whilst vandalism may appear to be a minor crime, the financial cost for schools to repair damages inflicted by vandals can be extortionate. In April 2023, it was revealed that almost £5 million has been spent repairing vandalism in Scottish schools. In this instance, vandalism not only has financial detriment but a significant impact on pupils, who lose access to facilities that aid their learning.

Security experts such as those at Churchill Support Services recommend the use of security lighting, CCTV and alarm systems to prevent and deter acts of vandalism.


5.Deliberate Fire-Starting on School Premises

Another significant area that falls under the vandalism bracket is arson. Its capability for large-scale destruction warrants its feature as a separate category. According to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), deliberate fires (arson) account for 45% of all fire-related incidents attended by fire services in England. Notably, the NFCC also states that most incidents of arson in Scotland involved refuge and were caused by under-18s.

Thankfully, instances of arson recorded by the police are on the decrease, yet it remains a significant issue. Last year, there were over 500,000 arson offences recorded by the police in England in Wales alone, costing an approximate £1.3 billion. Schools are particularly at risk of this type of crime, especially when left unoccupied over long periods, such as the summer holidays.

Arson poses significant further risk beyond the school grounds due to the speed at which fire can spread. It takes only 30 seconds for a fire to exponentially spread, and a matter of minutes for an entire building to be in flames.

The devastation arson can inflict should not be understated, risking not only damage to school property and personnel on-site, but also any neighbouring houses in the community. Whilst schools may be unoccupied for long periods, residential areas are less likely to be left absent for several weeks.

UK schools are at particular risk due to the nature of the academic year, which often leaves sites unattended for long periods. The impact of this crime is hugely detrimental, from the risk to human safety to damaged amenities and school supplies. The risk to the wider community is also paramount, including the destruction of wildlife and impact on the emotional well-being of the community.

Ensuring school premises are never left unobserved can prevent arson from occurring by stopping the crime before it happens. Prevention is key to managing this security risk due to its fast rate of destruction.


How Can Churchill Support Services Help?

Churchill Support Services can significantly reduce these threats with on-site security guards. Our security guards are SIA-licensed and have full training in conflict resolution. Churchill’s security solutions can be completely tailor-made, even down to the security guard uniform, helping to keep your grounds secure with minimal disruption.

With specific security threats such as physical threats, our security guards can intervene or contact emergency services promptly in the event of any incident. This includes everything from fire safety issues to aggressive behaviour. They can also assist with on-site bag searches, in line with your school policy, to prevent weapons from being bought on-site and minimise the risk of weaponised attacks.

Our security officers can work effectively together with CCTV, which is always monitored, 24/7, 365 days a year. This ensures schools are never left unattended or compromised, as our security personnel can intercept or notify of any activity whether remotely or on-site. With Churchill Support Services, your school will benefit from 27 years of experience, with all staff undertaking thorough training procedures to provide an unparalleled peace of mind for anyone working in the education sector. Churchill is here to support staff and students with our Communications Centre, available to provide support and advice to security staff at all hours of the day.

This can be utilised in conjunction with our lock and unlock services, to ensure your school buildings are always kept fully secure and inaccessible to the public when required. Our lock and unlock services ensure that there will always be a reliable security officer to open and close your site on your behalf, every day of the year. A secure premises is less likely to fall victim to theft or vandalism due to being inaccessible.

Our key holding and alarm response ensures that in the incident of an unauthorised person on-site, security officers can respond promptly to all alarm activations, including repairs or physical intervention. Be sure that your school site is safe and secure, minimising the risks of vandalism, arson, and theft.

Other security measures include canine securityfire extinguisher maintenance and emergency lighting. Churchill has a range of support services available to schools, for a bespoke security solution to fit your needs.

Churchill has over two decades of education security knowledge and is the #1 ACS-Approved security provider in the UK. With our 24/7 Security Guards, bespoke CCTV solutions and more, you can be sure your premises are always kept safe and secure.

To contact our operatives for a free, no-obligation quote, contact us here.

Emily Macaulay

Director of Sales

Emily is responsible for business growth and account development via new sales. She leads the Business Development teams through strategic goals and objectives in line with business targets and strategy. Emily is a friendly, approachable and a respected senior manager at Churchill who always strives to deliver service excellence.