Friday, June 08, 2007

Risk - lock out and lock down arrive in Australian schools

This post continues my discussion about society's approach to risk because I find that that the issue is niggling away at my mind.

Over the last few years I have watched with a degree of disquiet the rising obsession with security and risk minimisation in my daughters' school. The process has been cumulative.

This school used to be a friendly, open place, a school that I as a parent spent a lot of time in, a vibrant community with students, teachers and parents there from early in the morning until late afternoon. No more, I fear.

I do not remember precisely all the changes because it has been a slow erosion. Rather, I remember key points.

I remember the end of study club, the arrangement whereby parents could leave their older children at the school under supervision until 6, with the kids then being able to have dinner with the boarders if the parent was delayed. As I remember it at the time, the risks to the school from this service had become to great.

I remember the cameras going up round the school, something that made me feel sorry for the students. I remember when teachers were required to carry security ID with them. I remember when the school introduced rules requiring parents to report to the office before going onto the school grounds, something that I and I suspect most other parents ignore simply because it lacks practicality.

This year security has reached a new crescendo. New locking systems have been installed to go with the new security guards. Mind you, these guards do have one plus from a pupil perspective in that they all carry sets of keys, something that makes it easier to get into locked areas if, for example, your bag has been locked in.

Now we have reached a new level with the arrival of locked out and locked in. These terms come from the prison system and have been popularised because of the US experience including Columbine.

In locked out, school gates shut automatically. The pupils go on with their activities, but the school is "secure". In locked down, marked by a special siren, pupils must get to the nearest classroom before the doors lock automatically. They must then ring the school office and wait for further instructions.

I am sorry, but these precautions do not add to either my happiness nor to my sense of security.

I am not happy because they add hundreds of dollars to school fees at a time when we have been struggling to keep up with fees growing far faster than the rate of inflation.

I do not feel more secure because they make me think about risks that I would never have regarded as significant in an Australian context. Here the school seems to be telling me that my daughters do face those risks. I actually think that all this is silly, but I cannot help thinking about it.

In all this, the school to me has become a darker, gloomier, place. Further, in trying to minimise risks school has opened itself to new risks.

When youngest was hurt on school playground equipment and had to be taken to hospital to have her arm set, I regarded this simply as one of the normal risks of life. It was not the school's fault. The thought of sueing did not cross my mind.

My attitude has changed in the context of lock out and lock down. If the school has put in place these precautions and made us pay for them whether I like it or not, then if something goes wrong I would seriously consider sueing because the school has accepted responsibility.


Youngest, a stickler for accuracy, saw this post and made me change one point along with a short lecture on the need to check my facts. I had to hang my head in shame!

No comments: