A number of parents have contacted the School expressing concern as to the levels of security and approach to pupils’ safety that we have taken over the past ten days.
As a school community our first and most important objective is the safety of our pupils. To that end we have a robust set of security policies. However, policy documents are no protection, so we ensure through briefing and practice that our staff and pupils are aware of what they need to do in case of emergency or threat. We have fire drills and lockdown practice. We liaise with the security services. As part of our regular cycle of drills, we are scheduled to have a lockdown practice this term. Recent, tragic events will give this practice an added urgency.
Our approach to security is to have a dialogue with relevant qualified advisors about our security measures. Having listened, we then act. Our awareness is not changed by recent events, security, both on and off site continues as a priority issue for the School. Indeed, in October 2014 I met with representatives of the British Embassy and Canadian Embassy who reviewed our security measures and declared them to be fit for purpose. This dialogue has continued and I am extremely grateful for the support that we have received from the British Embassy during this period of national tension. The School is also well supported by the local police services and the Mairie. We have followed the advice of the local authorities regarding the placement of barriers in front of the Junior School and we are co-operating with the police regarding the more rigorous policing of no parking zones in front of both campuses. We are supported by the police who have increased the frequency of patrols around the School. Additionally I am meeting with the Heads of the American School, the International School and Marymount this afternoon to discuss security arrangements and to share ideas and best practice.
I hope that parents will understand that I am not going to publically elaborate on our security measures, such matters by their nature are probably best left as guarded secrets.
The tragic events of last week, have, in all likelihood changed France for ever. Our reaction to these events must recognise this. There will be no knee jerk reaction for us as the threat level has not changed. We believed that our children lived in a dangerous world before last week, sadly that danger still remains. Our vigilance does not need to increase because it was heightened before the attacks. As a school we continue to discuss the options available to us and to listen to those who have current intelligence regarding the level of threat. We are far from complacent. If we institute a regime of placing armed guards at points of access (as has been suggested), then we will be doing so ad infinitum. It is a sad fact that the threat from extremism will not go away anytime soon; current terrorists will be replaced with others. I would suggest that we need to accept that we will have to live with a culture of vigilance; we cannot, I would argue live in a climate of fear. Our colleagues at the International School of Paris were forced to make a difficult decision regarding opening the school on Monday, they had received a credible threat and they took expedient measures. I suspect that faced with the same predicament we too would err on the side of caution. The American School has armed guards, I’m sure that the decision was made based on sound advice. As yet we have not been advised of a direct threat against British interests or against the School and to that end we have opted for a different approach.
Parents should be aware of the following:
- All visitors including parents to the School should wear a Visitors badge. This includes parents who wish to visit the uniform shop.
- No parents should leave a car unattended in front of either the Senior or the Junior School. Local authorities will remove cars parked in front of either school.
- If parents wish to meet with members of staff they should book an appointment through the respective school offices.
- We respectfully ask that parents are prompt in the collection of their children after activities and at the end of the school day.
- Parents should be aware that emergency messages will be sent via SMS and email via the School’s Groupcall system. We reserve SMS messaging for the most urgent messages, other important messages will be sent via email and all other information should be found on FROG.
- Parents and visitors to the School should have a form of official identification such as a passport with them when attending a school event. ID checks will be instituted where it is felt necessary.
- We continue to take advice from relevant authorities regarding the safety of school trips and after school activities. Decisions as to whether activities will go ahead are made on a case by case basis. In the case of trips parents will be given the opportunity (where appropriate) to withdraw their son or daughter if the trip is considered to be inappropriate for that individual.
The School lockdown practice will occur on 27 January. It will be conducted on both of the School campuses. We will be talking with pupils about this drill before and after the event. It is recognised that the drill may be traumatic and may unnerve pupils of all ages. Please do discuss the importance of us practising this drill with your children and reassure them that this is simply an opportunity to be familiar with what to do in an emergency, it is not a sign that an emergency will occur. Professional security advisors will be involved in the drill. The drill will look different to similar exercises conducted in North American schools as the nature of the threat is different.
We live in troubled times. Our community’s strength is in its diversity. We take the security of the children in our care extremely seriously and we are well advised as to the actions that we should take. We are keen to ensure that we continue as far as possible with the valuable process of education. The fact that our students have the opportunity to learn from each other about the rich variety of world cultures is perhaps our greatest hope for the future, we will not help them if we restrict their learning by imposing a climate of fear. If that occurs, then the perpetrators of violence will have succeeded in their aim.
Mr Nicholas Hammond