Protecting schools during the holidays

18 January 2024

When schools are closed or partially closed during holiday periods, it is important leadership teams regularly review existing security/housekeeping arrangements to ensure they remain adequate.

An empty school building on a sunny day.
Limited occupation and much reduced activities mean that schools are potentially vulnerable to damage from opportunist offenders and other sources. The risk of arson should also not be dismissed.  
We suggest schools consider the traditional layered protection approach to secure their premises. The more protective layers that need to be breached by would-be intruders, the longer it will take and the more difficult it will become to reach their intended target. Each location will be different so a bespoke approach to protection is recommended. 
Various control measures are recommended below. In simple terms we suggest the most effective way to reduce the risk of loss or damage is to visualise the site in three zones as follows: 

  • Check perimeter fencing before school closure. Arrange for any holes or gaps to be repaired to prevent easy access to the site. 
  • School gates should be fitted with suitable locks and should be closed and locked when the site is unoccupied. 
  • Encourage neighbours and the local community to keep a vigilant eye on the site and to report any suspicious activity immediately, especially the unexpected arrival of contractors at the site. 
  • Ask your local Police Community Support Officers to include the site on their patrols. 
  • Maximise surveillance levels including cutting back tall trees and vegetation that may provide a screen to hide criminal activity. Remember to get any necessary approval for tree cutting e.g. from the local authority before any work starts.
  • External lighting: Offenders often look for access points or areas of a site that are not well-lit so installing motion–activated external security lighting can help deter offenders. Existing lighting should be checked to ensure it is operating correctly and damaged parts or bulbs must be repaired or replaced. Sudden illumination by motion-activated lighting can make a trespasser feel apprehensive and exposed   
  • Consider installing a Closed-Circuit Television System (CCTV) with adequate monitoring and recording, and display warning notices around the site. Cameras should be installed in inconspicuous areas and near access points to allow monitoring of different areas of the site. Remotely monitored systems may be able to benefit from an immediate police response. CCTV can be very beneficial when working with security lighting. 
  • Identify and remove any random debris e.g. bricks that could be used to damage the premises and gain entry. 
  • Ensure waste storage bins are sited at least 10 metres from the building to minimise the risk of fire spread. Bins should be emptied frequently to prevent the accumulation of packaging for new educational equipment or redundant combustible equipment. 
  • Any combustible furniture being replaced should be sited away from the building.  
  • Building works are often carried out during holiday periods. Contractors’ compounds need to be located away from the building at a minimum distance of 10 metres. Ensure contractors wear security lanyards or badges. An opportunist criminal may attempt to enter a site disguised a contractor. Encourage staff to challenge visitors without this identification.  
  • It is important hot and wet work permits and other permits to work are introduced and followed as appropriate.   
  • Access control: It is beneficial to plan which staff intend to visit the school during the holiday period and when. We appreciate that schools are often open for staff access with no reception facility. Also, some staff will be undertaking training with parts of the building open but empty. 
  • Potential entry points such as doors and windows should be secured when staff and visitors have left the premises. It is important to remind staff of this.  
  • Keys: Ensure that the location of any keys taken off-site is accurately recorded in a key register. 
  • Intruder Alarm and Automatic Fire Detection Systems: Maintenance checks should be undertaken of the system during term time to ensure the system is fully functional. It is recommended that consideration should be given to the system being monitored by a remote alarm receiving centre. If these systems need to be disconnected during the holiday period, please advise your insurance broker. 
  • Repair any damaged windows or doors to help secure the premises. 
  • Your major services plan needs to be reviewed to highlight the location of isolation switches, gas shut-off valves and water stopcocks. 
  • Contractors on site must comply with Smoking Procedures. Ideally, the site is designated a no-smoking area.  
  • Arrange for deliveries to be made at agreed times and request couriers and suppliers not to leave items outside the premises unattended. 
  • Letterboxes should be fitted with metal containers inside the door. 
  • Business Continuity Plan: Often staff depart and new staff join. Ensure the plan is updated with correct contact names and telephone numbers. 
  • In some cases, it may be necessary to employ security guards to monitor activity during holiday periods especially if building works are being undertaken or you are providing holiday club activities. Only Security Industry Association (SIA) approved contractors should be used. 
  • Consider installing internal door security systems such as a passcode, key card or fob system that allow you to monitor movement in the building. These systems can prevent access by sending an alert that an unauthorised person is attempting to gain access to a restricted area.  
  • Technology is an integral part of education. Items such as tablets, laptops, projectors and smartboards are potential targets for theft. Tablets and laptops should be protected with passcodes and encryption to deter criminals. During holiday periods these items should be stored out of sight in a secure alarm-protected area that is locked by a key or passcode system. 
  • Computer monitors and towers should be fitted with anti-theft cables and locked to a desk to deter thieves from easy movement and getaway. Projectors can be secured in a similar way where they are secured with anti-theft cables and locked to a cradle. 
  • Ensure technology and equipment are marked with covert and forensic marking to deter removal e.g. SmartWater. Signage in a prominent position highlighting that security marking has been used as an additional deterrent. 
  • Empty packaging for new equipment must be removed as a matter of urgency. Failure to do so alerts thieves to the fact that new contents have arrived. Packaging could also be used as a fire ignition source.  
  • Grounds equipment such as tractors, mowers and strimmers are especially targeted. Make sure your grounds staff do not leave this equipment unattended when in use. Also, ensure equipment stores are suitably protected with good quality locks and intruder alarms. Daily checks should be made of these areas. 
  • It is important to ensure that if the site is let for summer school activities or holiday clubs you have appropriate supervision arrangements in place. 
  • It is strongly recommended that schools use security experts in the education sector to undertake regular audits of their security arrangements. 

Key message

By reviewing security and housekeeping arrangements on a regular basis and taking sensible proportionate actions, it is possible to reduce the risk of damage to a school avoiding the enormous inconvenience and financial impact that such theft and damage can bring.
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