Wednesday, 09 January 2013

Safety and the militarisation of schools A couple of months ago I had to deliver something to a primary school during the day in term time. It wasn't as much of a security challenge as I had feared, which may reflect a degree of comparative enlightenment at the school in question; or perhaps it was in a low-risk area; or that my expectations have been affected negatively by the 'Secured by Design' movement. I certainly dislike the tendency to militarise our schools and see it as consistent with a culture of private car use and the development of gated communities. Fences are a bog standard example of the human inclination to outsource social responsibilities to technology. If you can minimise the supervision of children by constraining their movement, it allows you to get on with other things. But then, wait, other people might be able to reach them: so you have to add a camera or two. And then what? According to the National Rifle Association, that respected forum of balanced humanitarian reflection, in every school you'd need 'a good guy with a gun.' Today there's a new set of papers from those excellent folk at the new economics foundation (nef) on the need to revisit what we mean by 'prevention' with a view to coming up with a positive sense of prevention across social policy. One of the papers, by Anna Minton and Jody Aked, takes aim at the effect of Secured by Design principles on schools. They make the point that there is a significant impact in low income neighbourhoods: 'Schools, in particular, have become high security environments, emphasizing gating, high fences and CCTV. Because Secured by Design requirements for schools and public buildings are based on an audit of local crime risk, higher crime areas, which correlate with higher deprivation scores, are now characterised by public buildings... with a militarised feel to them.' The papers are welcome but I fear too conceptual and theoretical to ensure the sort of debate that is needed. And the time may not be ideal for the encouragement of more open thinking about the Other. I hope I'm wrong about that.

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