Building a safer school – the role of door hardware


Knowledge and understanding around access control measures is still far from being at the ideal level if we are to protect our schools better and prevent pupils coming into harm’s way.

When we think of our children going to school, we should be at rest and know that they will be closeted in a safe and enclosed space, a safe haven for learning and education and nothing else.

However, overall UK security levels are at their highest ever, while news and cases around school security is alarmingly frequent across our newswires. It is fast becoming an unfortunate reality that our schools and education facilities are not as protected as we would like them to be.

A quick recent timeline of events in the UK will ratify this, and some of the stats and news we’ve seen of late include:

  • May 2017 – Theresa May raises UK threat level to ‘critical’, following terror attack at the Manchester Arena at a concert with predominantly teenagers and children attending
  • May 2017 – Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner Cressida Dick told children as young as six years old are carrying knives by community members
  • November 2016 – Boy seriously hurt in City of Birmingham school stabbing
  • July 2016 – Children bringing knives to school up nearly 90 per cent in London
  • April 2014 – Teacher Ann Maguire murdered during class by pupil carrying knife

While we would not like an education landscape dominated by security measures, we also cannot deny the effects recent events are having on our schools and how it is transmitting feelings of fear and anxiety.

It is therefore imperative now that our schools and leaders recognise these threats and understand what role door hardware can play in making our schools safer. We will identify the important factors which need to be addressed when developing a comprehensive security solution.

One size does not fit all

One of the most important points to bear in mind is all schools are different, and as such you cannot build an off-the-shelf security solution.

Each school has a unique set of security objectives, and that is down to physical school layout and size, population of the school, the demographic of the school i.e. primary, secondary, sixth form or college, staffing arrangements and more.

Door hardware selection will play an important role in the functional performance throughout the facility, and also the effectiveness of the security solution.

Concept of vulnerability

In its simplest form, all schools adhere to three levels of vulnerability. Level 1 being the least vulnerable and relating to perimeter entry and exit points. Level 2 is more vulnerable and is the point at which people are screened before entering the interior of the school. Level 3 is the area which is most vulnerable, and refers to the core of the school which pupils and staff occupy.

Level 1 – Perimeter Security

The first level of security is the perimeter, which includes all external gates and entry/exit doorways for the school.

Perimeter security becomes most important during certain times of the day, usually outside of the periods when pupils, staff and visitors are permitted to come and go onto school grounds.

The first aspect to consider is the amount of exit/entry points for each facility, and that is based on the physical size and layout of the grounds.

The simplest, and most cost-effective, method of securing these points is by utilising a mechanical lock, such as a padlock or mortice lock. Ease of installation and maintenance also add to the benefits. However, there are many negatives to this solution, as it requires a lot of staff intervention, and a reliance on people to ensure the integrity of the perimeter is maintained.

Incorporating some level of electronic access control should be a consideration, whether than is a combination of electronic and mechanical door hardware, or a complete electronic solution.

For an electromechanical solution, consider electronic strikes. They are easy to install and are able to control access via various credentials such as keypads, cards and proximity readers. When combined with mechanical locks, they provide the benefits of unrestricted egress. This option also allows integration with central security systems, which can be automatically activated and pre-programmed for regular scheduled control.

For a complete electronic solution, schools can install maglocks instead of mechanical locks which are centrally controlled and monitored.

Level 2 – Front Entrance

The second level of security is the administration or reception area. A well designed school will channel all visitors through this area, and the concept of effective access control requires that entry to and from a facility to be regulated.

Having a single point of entry allows for such monitoring, and an entrance area restricts visitors from having free access to the rest of the school.

Access-controlled egress doors are permitted in all schools. Their latches can be electronically controlled from the reception area or school office. Exit/entry doors can be readily opened by a push from the inside, and if your entry area is also a panic exit, use of electronically powered panic bars is an effective and permitted solution.

If you supplement the entry point with an intercom and a security camera when the entry point is not visible from the reception area then you have an excellent entry control device.

Electronically controlled keyless door locks are available as hard-wired models (usually networked), and also as wireless stand-alone models.

The stand-alone models are economical to install, but the hard-wired models are superior when it comes to instantaneously cancelling access or otherwise reprogramming doors. Wireless models must be reprogrammed individually, either manually or by using portable electronic devices that can download information at each door.

In either case, the actual access control measure can be based on anything from push-button codes to proximity cards, biometric readers, or any combination of entry control methods desired. Electronic solutions also give you time and date stamps so you can track who enters the building, and can be programmed to limit access to defined days and hours, and micro-customised for each access card or code.

Level 3 – The core of the school

The third level of vulnerability for a school are the internal hallways, corridors, stairwells and entry points into classrooms and restricted areas (e.g. laboratories, staff lounges). This is the most important area to protect and ensure pupils and staff feel safe in.

Multiple studies have shown that a safe learning space is imperative for a quality learning environment, and if students do not feel safe in school it impacts on their ability to learn properly. As well as occupants, restricted areas also need to be protected, as they contain sensitive information, expensive equipment or chemicals.

When choosing access control solutions for classrooms, it is important to remember that there should be free egress from within at all times.

Again, the most economical solutions are mechanical lockdowns, and key cylinders that locks the outside lever only of a door handle are now readily available. However, these mechanical solutions are time consuming in an active situation, rely heavily on staff intervention, and also do not allow for audit trails.

For electronic lockdown solutions, there are two routes you can take – either via remote control or through a centralised system.

Centralised systems are networked systems, meaning you have an integrated access control system for the entire school. Doors throughout the school can be locked down from a central command point in an emergency and this option locksdown in the least amount of time compared to other solutions.

Remote lockdown options are best if the budget does not allow for installation of an integrated networked system. The locks are activated by remote control individually within the proximity of a door. If, however the school perimeter and front entrance has been breached, this type of solution relies heavily on staff communication and teachers being made aware of the situation.

If you are considering an electronic lockdown solution, it is advisable to choose locks that can offer audit trail features. Audit trails gives visibility of who accessed a certain area and at what time, so security or site managers can monitor and understand any irregular activity.

More security, less risk, better experiences

Our pupils and teachers deserve facilities where they feel safe. Only by understanding the variety of situations our education facilities could be put in, and the ability of door hardware that is now available, can schools come up with a security solution that matches with their daily operation.

Article written by Simon Osborne, Commercial Leader for Allegion UK & Ireland.