Crime doesn’t need to give schools the summertime blues

28 June 2023

As the school year winds down and the long summer holiday looms, schools should take sensible steps to protect themselves from crime.

Education Risk Barometer Special Feature.  Protecting scholl property from summer holiday crime.

Unused buildings are a magnet for crime and schools closed for summer are vulnerable. In fact, they may be more at risk than most. Previous research by Ecclesiastical has found that two thirds of UK schools (64%) had experienced a crime.

That should come as no surprise. Rightly or wrongly, schools are seen as a soft target. In our research, nearly two thirds (65%) of crimes had been carried out by current or former pupils. Graffitiing and vandalism are offences that are often perpetrated by children, and schools closed for summer offer a familiar and apparently unguarded environment for mischief.

But it isn’t just bored kids blowing off steam. While our research showed that anti-social behaviour (28%), trespassing (24%), graffiti (23%) and criminal damage (22%) are the most common crimes against school property, theft is also an issue.

Last summer our clients reported an increase in thefts of lead from roofs and laptops from buildings during the summer holidays. As the cost of living crisis bites, this year could be worse.

“Schools are far more vulnerable during the summer holidays when school buildings are closed and largely unoccupied, tempting opportunists,” says Faith Kitchen, Customer Segment Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance. “With high inflation and the cost of living crisis, it is more important than ever that schools take steps to protect their premises from offenders.”

The physical and psychological impacts of crime

The impacts of crime against schools are far reaching. There is, first, a financial cost. On average, crime over the previous 12 months had left schools with bills of more than £13,000, according to our research. Almost one in five (18%) of the schools we spoke to said crime had led to an increase in

But the financial impact is not the only one. Criminal damage can make schools feel less safe. Vandalism makes them less appealing places to be. In our survey, almost half of schools that had suffered from crime had experienced an increase in staff anxiety (47%), three in 10 reported low staff morale (30%) and a quarter had seen an increase in pupil anxiety (25%).

The onus is on schools to prevent crime wherever they can, and avoid the reputational and financial damage that comes from becoming a repeat target. But what, realistically, can schools do?

“Schools are far from defenceless, and there’s a number of things they can do to deter crime over the summer holiday,” says Kevin Thomas, Principal Risk Management Surveyor for Ecclesiastical. “Some are simple and some more complex, but a combination of measures can make your school a far less appealing prospect to opportunist criminals and those intent on anti-social behaviour. When you present them with physical obstacles and a clear risk of detection, most will move on.”

A combination of security measures

You can find Ecclesiastical’s complete crime prevention guidance here, but in summary your defence against crime can be split into zones. Outside of school premises, schools should engage with the wider community, creating easy channels of communication with neighbourhood watch groups and local police liaison teams.

At the perimeter to school property, restrict access using well-designed walls, fences and gates. Anti-climb paint is a relatively inexpensive way to deter intruders from getting over walls or onto roofs.

When it comes to buildings and grounds, effective deterrents include CCTV systems with 24 hour remote monitoring and remotely monitored intruder alarms. Security lights with motion sensors can reduce the likelihood of school premises becoming the favoured location for anti-social behaviour.

“Ideally, schools will invest in a combination of physical and electronic protection,” says Faith Kitchen. “Fencing around the perimeter can often offer a good first line of defence against unwanted visitors, while CCTV can act as a visual deterrent for those not wanting to be caught on camera.”

Seek specialist advice

There’s much more in our guidance, but the good news is that schools are getting the message over security. Our research found that three quarters (72%) had introduced new measures to protect the school and deter criminals. The top investments are CCTV (49%), alarms (27%), security fencing (21%) and security lighting (19%).

Schools should also seek advice from specialist insurers. Ecclesiastical has in-house experts and also works with external suppliers to support schools in creating crime prevention strategies.

And if your school does fall victim to criminality this summer, our all-risks policy covers loss or damage to buildings and/or contents by any cause that isn’t specifically excluded.

“Our team has handled a wide range of claims involving schools, including stolen lead, theft of gardening equipment, intentional damage to cricket apparatus, and damage to sports pitches,” says Andrew Henner, Ecclesiastical’s Property Technical Claims Manager. “If the worst does happen, our claims specialists will be by your side, supporting you all the way through the claims process from first notification to settlement.”

Prevention is better than cure, but sometimes a cure is also needed. Ecclesiastical can help with both. Schools may seem vulnerable during the long summer holiday, but well planned prevention and recovery strategies can significantly limit both your exposure to crime and the damage it can cause.

The survey was commissioned by specialist education insurer Ecclesiastical and conducted by OnePoll with 500 teachers from 29 July – 11 August 2022.

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