Need for safer schools not a novel idea, Minister

Editorial

Need for safer schools not a novel idea, Minister

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

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Before the minister with responsibility for education becomes further guilty of spouting platitudes, we in this space wish to bring to his attention that somewhere within the confines of his ministry — perhaps a condemned linen closet — are the reports of the National Education Inspectorate which pinpointed the safety vulnerabilities of many schools from as far back as 2013.

The chief inspector's report published that year for schools reviewed between September 2011 and March 2012 indicated that 62 of the 205 schools inspected had unsatisfactory safety, security and well-being matters of a varied nature; some were even flagged as needing “immediate support”. The report cites that: “Some schools in this group had multiple incidents of “break-in” due to the lack of security fencing which allowed intruders to enter the schools putting staff and students at risk.”

In the 2015 baseline report some 335 of the 953 schools inspected earned an unsatisfactory rating for safety and well-being, with a further 11 needing immediate support.

While we accept that reinspections in 2016 and 2017 indicated some improvement in the security and safety measures observed, the reports speak to persistent deficiencies in monitoring, fencing, and intruder concerns in almost 20 per cent of institutions.

That in 2020 the minister with responsibility for education is making knee-jerk pronouncements on things to come is simply not good enough. The reports have been written; the recommendations simply need to be implemented. Then announcements can come of safety threats quashed.

No doubt, there are many issues that plague the education sector and, while books and curricula take pride of place, the safety and security of our students and teachers cannot be relegated to 15 minutes of priority only when an incident raises the threat level.

In the private sector, the mantra is what gets measured gets done. The same needs to become the standard in the areas managed by the Government.

While our educators grapple with resource shortages and the system braces for the perennial hit by the flight of our trained and experienced teachers, matters of safety and security must not become talking points, especially with the needs assessment information already in hand.

We daresay that the business of safety requires no less than the tenacity and concomitant budgetary support that characterised the introduction of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) or the fixity of purpose with which this Administration has pursued the introduction of the needed national identification system (NIDS).

What has been missing is the will — political will, moreso — to assign importance to this matter which affects the nation's youth. It would have been an indictment on our decision-makers if this round of breaches in safety and security is not treated with action before another life is lost.

The announcement, then, of the intent to deploy safety and security support officers through the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme, as well as 1,000 hand-held metal detectors and 30 overhead ones is but a start to addressing the long-standing weaknesses in security at our schools. Any less than a comprehensive and sustained response is insufficient.

And while external threats are to be neutralised, there are menaces within that require more than talks from guidance counsellors on conflict management; intense behaviour-change work needs to commence with haste.

On with the work, Minister; the time for press releases is passed.


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