HL Deb 29 April 1999 vol 600 cc59-60WA
Lord Eames

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of the recent atrocity in a school in the United States, whether local education authorities are giving sufficient attention to safety in educational establishments in the United Kingdom. [HL2132]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

The shootings at Columbine High School are a tragic incident and our sympathies go out to the bereaved, the injured and their families.

Her Majesty's Government treat the issue of school security very seriously. We will consider carefully any lessons that might be learned from this incident when the investigations have been completed. Much excellent work has already been done on school security since the Cullen Report on the Dunblane tragedy and the report from the Government's Working Group on School Security were published in 1996. In direct response to the Dunblane incident and the recommendations in the working group's report, the law on firearms was tightened and the legislation on offensive weapons was extended to cover schools. Guidance on improving school security has been made available to authorities and schools. The Government also continue to make funding available for measures to improve school security.

Education authorities have an important responsibility for ensuring that their schools are safe and secure for staff and pupils. As well as having security strategies, they should ensure that risk assessments have been undertaken at individual schools to enable security needs to be identified and prioritised, especially in applying for or distributing school security funding.

We recognise however that it is difficult for authorities to guarantee school security under all circumstances and there are limits to what can sensibly be done to protect against the most extreme incidents. A proper balance must be struck between making schools secure and keeping them accessible. Schools have a valuable role to play at the heart of their communities, and education authorities should take appropriate measures to ensure reasonable security without turning schools into impenetrable fortresses.