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After the recent death of 61 year old Spanish teacher Anne Maguire in Leeds today, what is the best way to deal with violence in schools in the UK as it happens?

Most schools in the UK do not have a lockdown / violence procedure as it is very rare.

However can we deal with this as it happens effectively in the UK?

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Check out Dave Grossman's material for schools. He's probably the best expert on this in the world. Please convert this to a comment, I would but reputation won't allow. –  citsonga Apr 28 at 22:32
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As tragic as this situation is, it's unclear whether this question is on-topic here. Violence-prevention policies at secondary schools are likely to be very different than similar policies at universities. –  JeffE Apr 28 at 22:35
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@JeffE: Unfortunately this is very much on-topic here, since colleges and universities in the US, including the California community college where I teach, are mindlessly copying practices from K-12 education on this issue. In fact, we have a lockdown drill scheduled this week that would have caused me to lose an hour of instruction, except that we were able to negotiate an opt-out for instructors who didn't think it would be valuable. –  Ben Crowell Apr 28 at 22:42
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The question as asked is off-topic: it is not about academia. Please rephrase the question to apply to universities, rather than secondary schools. –  David Richerby Apr 29 at 8:06
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@StrongBad Yes. That's why I said that "the question as asked is off-topic" and suggested rephrasing the question to make it explicitly about academia! –  David Richerby Apr 29 at 12:40
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3 Answers 3

In the US, a college student's risks of being robbed, assaulted, or raped on campus are each roughly 3x10-3 per year. This is higher than we'd like it to be -- well, we'd like the rate to be zero. One's chances of being victimized can probably be reduced by taking commonsense precautions such as calling Campus Safety to ask for an officer to walk along if one has to cross a college campus in the dark. I don't know how much of this violent crime is alcohol-related, but certainly alcohol is involved in many off-campus incidents.

As a teacher, there are some common-sense things you can do if there is a violent incident, such as a shoving match or scuffle. Identify yourself as a teacher to the student who has been violent. If the person is your student, tell him/her to leave class until the next meeting. Call 911 and report the incident to Campus Safety.

Most schools in the UK do not have a lockdown / violence procedure as it is very rare.

The reason we do have lockdown procedures and lockdown drills here in the US is not because school shootings are common in the US. In the US, a college student's annual risk of dying in a school shooting is something like 3x10-6 per year. Since the risk of being raped is roughly 1000 times higher than the risk of being a victim of a school shooting, this idea of a lockdown drill is clearly disproportionate. It's based on cultural and emotional responses, not a realistic assessment of risks. Although events like the Kennedy assassination, 9/11, and the Newtown shooting are culturally powerful, they should not be allowed to take over our lives or evoke a dysfunctional response.

There is no intellectually rigorous evidence for any particular lockdown procedure, drill, training, etc. For example, my school wanted us to show our students a video advocating a "run, hide or fight" strategy, but there is no clear evidence to support this strategy.

Furthermore, drills detract from instruction and may violate students' rights by locking them up in a classroom and telling them that they can't leave.

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@ConnorGurney: Good to hear that your school is acting appropriately by not having drills. –  Ben Crowell Apr 28 at 22:43
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@ConnorGurney: There's the off chance that a vicious dog could come on campus. Dog bites kill far more people every year than school shootings. Do you worry that your school doesn't have set procedures for the dog situation? –  Ben Crowell Apr 28 at 22:49
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But a shooting or stabbing as in the recent tragedy is, generally speaking, more devastating and more likely to cause death/s. Not true. Dog bites cause orders of magnitude more deaths every year than school shootings, and I assure you that people whose loved ones were killed in a dog attack are just as devastated as people whose loved ones died in a school shooting. Or if you prefer to talk about the conditional probability of death, i.e., the probability of death given that the situation occurs, then we could have drills for the case where a school is hit by a Tunguska-size meteoroid. –  Ben Crowell Apr 28 at 23:28
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You should have drills based on the likelihood that following a drill (instead of whatever you'd do absent training) saves lives. So even if they weren't so rare, meteor strikes are "too likely to kill" -- drills cannot save you. Then to decide whether to drill for dog attacks or human attacks (or both, or neither), look at how many die per year because they were untrained. If there's no good evidence that training helps, the purpose of the training is not to save lives but something else (probably PR). Same for fire drills, we do them because we think evacuate + head-count saves lives. –  Steve Jessop Apr 29 at 8:57
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... basically there's a zone above 0, where as the likelihood of the scenario killing you increases, the value of knowing mitigating tactics against the scenario at least might increase with it. Then up at 1 mitigation is impossible, but the existence of that case does not imply that rate of fatality is irrelevant to the possibility of mitigation elsewhere on the curve. Alternatively maybe learn first aid, which can reduce the chance of death from both dog bites and shootings. Or if you're more scared of dogs than shooters, carry a poisoned sausage with you at all times. –  Steve Jessop Apr 29 at 9:01
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The best solution to violence is, generally speaking, prevention. As have been pointed out, school shootings are rather rare occurrences. I will herein detail a number of steps for an educational institution to work to lower crime rates.

1. Educate your students and teachers.

The inclusion of this point may seem trivial, but there are simple steps individuals can take that will protect them from crime. Most noticeably is the importance of not being alone - a single person is a much easier target for crime than someone in a group. Sticking to brightly lit, well-traveled areas will also decrease the likelihood of being targeted. There are many more tips on a number of websites.

2. Invest in infrastructure.

A clean, open, well-lit space is much less likely to be the site of crime. Janitorial and groundskeeping staff are especially important to this effort. Paving common walking paths will encourage more people to use them, benefiting them of safety in numbers. Trim trees and install outdoor lights. If a casual observer can notice something is wrong, it's less likely for a crime to be committed there.

3. Invest in direct security.

Have security cameras installed so as to cover major public spaces. Make their presence visible, but not obtrusively so. The presence of cameras both act as a deterrent and can help after a crime. Note on visibility: A potential criminal will look for cameras, so simple visibility is all that is necessary; Obtrusive cameras will make users feel their privacy is violated.

Get either local police or a security service to routinely make circuits of campus. "Complete" coverage should mean that anyone standing in a public space should see police/security once every 15-30 minutes, even if they just drive slowly by. If an effort is made by officers to be helpful and not oppressive, this can even become an attractive feature to potential students and teachers.

4. Purely reactive measures.

While the steps above are either preventative or act as a deterrent, there are a few more measures that can be taken with a focus to respond to crimes after they happen.

Security call boxes can help a victim alert police or security to a crime and secure emergency services if necessary. Even in the age of cell phones, it is probable that a victim does not have other means to alert security. Dialing on a cell phone might be difficult, or their phone may have been stolen or lost in a scuffle.

Have a therapist on staff and give security training to facilitate an air of reassurance - this is especially important when dealing with victims of rape or sexual assault. There is much more information on this in security circles. Having this training will also make others more comfortable with the idea of going to security with their problems by assuaging their fears of a security investigation disturbing their life.


Ultimately, there must be an effort to both make the campus physically safer and to make the local culture more resistant to crime. These measures are not only focused on making crime harder but also making crime less accepted as "a reality of the community". Criminals ultimately pick on the lowest hanging fruit, and we have the possibility to move it out of reach.

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Emergency notification systems

It's important to have systems in place which enable timely (read: not help up in red tape) warnings of immediate and pressing danger.

Following the 2007 incident in which more than 30 people were killed by a student gunman at Virginia Tech, officials at VT were criticized for a perceived failure to warn students in a timely manner:

When an emergency occurs at Virginia Tech, its emergency plan dictates that a Policy Group consisting of senior administrators (at that time not including the chief of campus police) be convened by the president to oversee the university’s response. On the morning of April 16, the Policy Group, anxious to avoid a panicked reaction, acted slowly to alert the campus to a dangerous situation. In the emergency message it sent out almost two hours after the first shootings at West Ambler Johnston Hall, the group said there had been a shooting but did not state explicitly that two people had been killed and that the killer had not been apprehended.

(Source)

In the aftermath of this incident, many universities indicated that they were taking steps to improve their emergency notification systems, including:

  • Implementing a system with the ability to broadcast notifications to students by text message or personal email address
  • Creating a written protocol for determining when to issue a broadcast emergency alert

Of course, these systems are far more likely to be used for non-violent but immediate, pressing dangers such as a fire, earthquake affecting structural integrity, etc. Regardless of the nature of the emergency, it's important to have these systems in place.

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protected by aeismail Apr 29 at 3:50

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