Schools are a growing target for crime

19 October 2023

New Ecclesiastical research shows a leap in crime targeted at schools and rocketing costs for those affected.

Education Risk Barometer Special Feature. Schools are a growing target for crime.

Schools are being advised to review their crime protection strategies after new research from Ecclesiastical found a worrying increase in anti-social behaviour, graffiti, trespass and damage.

The survey of 500 UK teachers reveals that four out of five of the schools polled experienced criminal activity in the last 12 months, a 15% rise on the previous year.

35% have been victims of anti-social behaviour | Three in 10 schools had been defaced by graffiti | 28% suffered trespassing
For schools, crime experienced within the property can be a stressful event for all who work there. Teachers are left to deal with the implications of teaching without essential equipment or in full view of fresh graffiti, while school leaders have to tackle the expenses incurred.

Faith Kitchen, Customer Segment Director at Ecclesiastical.

The costs of crime - financial, emotional and reputational

The impact of crime on schools and school life is also increasing. On average, crime over the past 12 months has cost schools more than £26,000, double the figure for the previous year.

That’s a considerable sum of money in tough economic conditions, and the consequences of crime are more than just financial. Over a third (36%) of teachers reported that pupil anxiety has increased as a result of education crime, up from a quarter (25%) in 2022.

Schools that are targeted repeatedly run the risk of reputational damage and a loss of trust on the part of parents, teachers and the wider community.

The causes of education crime

What are the causes of education crime? Schools are not immune from wider societal trends, and incidents of petty crime and anti-social behaviour are rising more generally. This may be a response to the reopening of society after Covid and the current cost of living crisis.

It’s also true that schools can be seen as a soft target and are often located in their own grounds away from bustling streets and traffic. They offer a familiar yet secluded environment for children and young adults to gather.

Our research found that, of those who had experienced a crime, two in five (43%) said the crime had been committed by pupils and three in ten (31%) by ex-pupils.

Doing nothing is not an option

In the face of rising education crime, doing nothing is not an option. Schools that have been targeted once are likely to be targeted again. If left unaddressed criminal activity can quickly escalate, and questions might be asked about a school’s commitment to staff and student safety.

What can schools do to protect themselves from the rising impact of crime?

“Schools are far from defenceless,” says Kevin Thomas, Principal Risk Management Surveyor for Ecclesiastical. “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.”

In other words, make your school a harder target. Here are ten ways to do that:

  1. Check gates and fences: Check perimeter fencing and have any gaps repaired. School gates need to be fitted with suitable locks and should be closed and locked when not in use.
  2. Install closed-circuit television (CCTV): Consider installing CCTV with adequate monitoring and recording and display warning notices around the site. Cameras should be installed in inconspicuous areas and near access points and, if possible, remotely monitored. Maximise surveillance levels by cutting back tall trees and vegetation that may provide a screen for criminal activity but remember to get any necessary approvals first.
  3. Install and check external lighting: Offenders often look for access points or areas of a site that are poorly lit, so installing motion–activated exterior security lighting can be an effective deterrent. Check existing lighting for damage and replace bulbs as soon as they go.
  4. Check intruder alarm and automatic fire detection systems: Check the system during term time to make sure it’s fully functional. Consider having it monitored by a remote alarm receiving centre. If these systems need to be disconnected during holidays, advise your insurance broker.
  5. Remove dangerous debris: Remove any random debris (like bricks and bottles) that could be used to damage the school.
  6. Prevent fire damage: Ensure waste storage bins are sited at least 10 metres from the building to minimise the risk of fire spread. Empty them frequently. Any combustible material removed from the building should be stored a safe distance away.
  7. Keep up with maintenance and repairs: Repair damaged windows or doors immediately.
  8. Canvas local community support: Ask the local community to be vigilant and report any unusual or suspicious activity on school grounds.
  9. Create a business continuity plan: A well-considered action plan can minimise the disruption caused by a criminal incident.
  10. Seek advice: Specialist insurers can help schools manage security risks. They offer a combination of onsite and remote risk management services including security assessments and advice, alongside broader property protection and building valuation services.
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