Schools should not lock down over email threats unless the move is “actively” recommended by police or leaders are satisfied it is a “proportionate response” to an immediate physical threat, the government has said.
The Department for Education (DfE) reiterated its school and college security guidance in an email to headteachers today following a recent spate of malicious communications sent to schools.
Last month, schools in three counties went into lockdown in the space of a week after receiving emails “threatening violence to children and staff”.
In its message to leaders, the DfE said it was “aware of several recent malicious email threats to education settings in a number of local authority areas.
“The police have said these incidents are malicious communications and there has not yet been a credible threat.”
But it added that it recognised “threats of this nature are very upsetting and can be disruptive to the calm learning environments you strive to create”.
“Education settings are not advised to initiate a lockdown unless it is actively recommended by the police, or you are satisfied that it is a proportionate response to an immediate physical threat on-site.”
Schools told to alert police to emails ‘immediately’
Where a school receives a threat, DfE told leaders to alert the police immediately and “follow their advice and guidance”.
They are also asked to “engage” with their local authority, as the management responsibility for school security is shared between councils, governing bodies, proprietors and headteachers.
Email threats were sent to schools in West Yorkshire, Manchester and Cheshire in September.
A man who was arrested by West Yorkshire Police on September 14 in connection with an email sent to a number of schools in Leeds and Bradford was later released without charge.
The force, which said enquiries were “ongoing”, said it had not issued guidance to schools to lockdown.
But a number of schools in Leeds took extra security measures after receiving advice from the city council.
It reportedly asked schools to “remain vigilant and ensure that your usual robust safeguarding procedures are adhered to”.
Beeston Primary School, Richmond Hill Academy and Ruth Gorse Academy were among the schools which put extra security measures in place.
It is understood the latter two schools kept children indoors during breaktimes and asked people not to visit the site unless essential.
Emergency plans should cover ‘a range’ of incidents
In a message to parents on Facebook, Beeston Primary School said staff were “being extra vigilant”.
Sharp Lane Primary School reportedly sent an email to parents saying that “children will be kept indoors for the full day”.
“All gates remain closed and locked as usual and doors and windows within school remain closed all day also,” it added.
On September 12, Greater Manchester Police and Cheshire Constabulary said they were investigating after being made aware of an email sent to schools that morning.
Cheshire Police said the email, sent to schools in Chester and Ellesmere Port, “made threats to pupils and staff”.
Lache Primary School in Chester told parents on Facebook that it had locked down the school “to ensure that everyone is safe” and could not let parents pick children up early.
Blacon High School in Chester also put additional measures in place after receiving the email, but told parents it was not “in lockdown”.
In its email, DfE also emphasised that all schools should have emergency plans in place which should be “generic enough” to cover a range of potential incidents.
It added that they should also have a “competent person or persons” to lead in health and safety, and security including online or cyber security attacks.