Planning for school security

Written by: Suzanne O’Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Headteachers are very much aware of the need to protect pupils and staff. However, navigating the guidance and legal obligations can be difficult. Suzanne O’Connell looks at new online advice to help those responsible for policy and practice

When drawing up a security policy it can be difficult to establish what the most up-to-date advice is. Guidance can be spread across different departments and the most appropriate can be hard to find.

Now, online advice published in November has brought together much of the written material that was previously scattered across different sources. If you have not already seen it, School and college security (DfE, 2019) is worth more than a scroll down.

The security policy and plan

As with most areas of school life, it is essential that you have a policy in place. The guidance advises that schools should have a policy that:

  • Identifies the likelihood of a security-related incident occurring.
  • Assesses the level of impact.
  • Develops plans and procedures to manage and respond to any threats.

Alongside this policy, schools are advised to have business continuity plans in place in the event of a serious incident. Remember, any policies and plans should cover not only your immediate premises but also areas regularly used for off-site education and the places that your school visits.

The DfE guidance suggests that a school security policy should “help create a culture in which staff and students recognise and understand the need to be more vigilant about their own (safety) and the safety and security of others”.

Everyone within the school community needs to have a common understanding about how to respond in different situations. Writing the security policy might be delegated, but implementing it is everyone’s business. As a school you will need to consider your approaches to:

  • Preventing an incident occurring.
  • Raising awareness among students through the curriculum (such as the PSHE programme).
  • Managing an incident or emergency.
  • Business continuity management.

The guidance provides more detail and a number of links against each of these aspects of security policy and planning.


The guidance recommends that any preventative action must be proportionate to:

  • The type of threat when assessed.
  • The likelihood of it occurring.
  • The impact it would have.

Risk-identification and management is central to this and the guidance links to resources providing practical templates and advice to help schools reduce and manage risks. Schools should consider how they will protect their premises, including through the use of security lighting and the access controls they implement.

Threats are not always from the outside and the school’s approach to searching, screening and confiscation needs to be given consideration, particularly in relation to concerns over knife crime and the threat of gang membership. Approaches to behaviour management need to be clear and there should be a whole-school approach that is put into practice by every member of staff.

The curriculum remains a powerful tool for raising student awareness of how to keep themselves and others safe.

The guidance suggests that schools should consider how aspects of security might be included in PSHE, for example. Although the guidance refers to partnership with the police as part of the curriculum, there is mixed evidence about the success of external speakers delivering strong messages about risky behaviour. Each school must reflect on what works best for them.

Managing an incident

No matter how carefully a school prepares and plans to prevent incidents, there may be times when emergencies occur. It is at this point that all members of staff should know what their responsibilities are and how to act.

This will be included in the content of an emergency plan and schools are urged to make a plan sufficiently generic to apply to all potential incidents, including:

  • Serious injury to staff or student, e.g. a transport accident.
  • Significant damage to school property, e.g. a fire.
  • Criminal activity, e.g. a bomb threat.
  • Severe weather, e.g. flooding.
  • Public health incidents, e.g. a flu epidemic.
  • Effects of a disaster in the local community.

It is not only staff who should be alert to what they should do in different situations. Plans should be communicated to governors, students, contractors and visitors and be regularly reviewed and tested where possible.

A self-assessment emergency incident planning checklist is also provided alongside the new DfE guidance and provides an indication of what schools should include in their planning. It includes things like evacuation plans, lockdown plans, and more general school site and building checklists.

Business continuity

How will your school recover from a security-related incident? For example, what steps will be taken to:

  • Get back to “business as usual”?
  • Handle the emotional impact of any incident?
  • Evaluate post-incident?

As with the rest of the security policy, it should be clear about roles and responsibilities and the kind of support that might be provided following an incident. The emotional impact should not be underestimated and school leaders will not only have to consider that of their staff, students and parents but should also be prepared for the emotional impact on themselves.

As with all unwanted incidents, it is important that the school community takes time to reflect on what has happened, debriefs and receives feedback. Evaluating the plans and taking a critical approach to how they might be improved is important.


At the heart of each of these aspects of managing security is communication. Schools need to have established exactly who to contact and how. The guidance states: “It is important that all staff feel empowered to make decisions and know what action to take where they have a concern.”

Most schools already have communication networks in place in the event of school closure due to bad weather.

Further consideration should be given to communication during other types of incidents, such as security breaches involving intruders, criminal activity and terrorist attack. What can staff use to alert others in cases where some form of silent communication is needed?

Schools should also consider how they will communicate to parents and the media, including social media. It is recommended that schools undertake training in communications-handling when it comes to the media.

Significant risks

There is a strong element of preparing for the greater threat in this guidance. Alongside considering your actions in relation to vandalism, theft and the incidental intruder, it urges schools to consider what they might do in the case of a more serious incident such as a student with an offensive weapon, a serious cyber-attack or even a terrorist threat.

The guidance suggests that schools should review their “invacuation” and evacuation procedures and consider introducing lockdown procedures if a threat enters the school.

Invacuation or shelter arrangements apply when the threat is outside the venue. Lockdown, on the other hand, refers to an emergency situation where children and staff need to be locked within buildings for their own safety.

For example, as in the case of a hostile intruder. Schools need to consider what alarm or signal they will give to put the lockdown into operation and to lift it.

Be sure to adapt the templates

The advice provides some templates and checklists that you can lift and adapt for your own school. The advice is clear that it is important that schools identify the risks that are particularly characteristic to their area. Security provision is not a one-size-fits-all but must be tailored to the specific nature of the school and its community.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

Further information & resources

School and college security, DfE, November 2019:

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