Security in education: ensuring technology plays its part

With security systems on the rise within schools Colin McKeown, senior consultant at NW Systems Group, analyses the key challenges facing education leaders in ensuring modern technology plays its role in safeguarding students and reducing institutions’ exposure to risk

Colin McKeown
Colin McKeown, senior consultant

Diminishing education budgets, growing pupil numbers and the pressure to invest in new technologies to boost safeguarding and pupils’ prospects are challenges all too familiar to schools, academies and colleges across the UK.

The future of investment in schools has not been made any clearer by the recent general election result. Schools are under pressure to deliver more for less and the impact is being felt across board; areas such as security systems – vital for perimeter protection, combatting bullying, ensuring staff welfare, etc. – are suffering.

Impenetrable: security systems

The difficulty in maintaining security system effectiveness is understandable but the repercussions of poorly maintained equipment can, ultimately, lead to damaging consequences. This includes an inability to rely on evidence provided in court or even penalties as a result of a lack of adherence to regulatory guidelines set out by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ATL has made it very clear that systems, such as CCTV, ‘…should be constantly reviewed to monitor their effectiveness and impact’.

The level of risk schools will be exposed to over the next five years is, therefore, expected to rise – with three key drivers coming to the fore; rising crime levels, tightening industry regulation and raised alarms over poor cyber security practice.

Crime in schools: a rising threat

With almost 1,400 weapons seized in UK schools over the last year, representing a year-on-year rise of 20%, crime continues to be an issue of growing concern for education leaders. Beyond the recent focus on violent crime, the second most common offence in schools to date was found to be theft, burglary and robbery, forming approximately 43% of all crimes in 2014.

While education professionals are keen to ensure a balanced, yet effective, approach to the use of security systems, services such as policing and mental health have also been clear on the need for behavioural incidents to be identified as early as possible in order to avoid them becoming more problematic in later life.

Regulatory guidelines: ensuring effective use of systems

With the increasing use of security technology to reduce crime levels, questions evaluating the effectiveness of such systems, their deployment and maintenance – and whether institutions are following the necessary regularly guidelines to ensure staff and student safety – have been raised. A number of bodies, including the NUT and NAHT, the ICO and ATL, have issued clear guidance on this matter.

This is to highlight, not only the correct use of surveillance and security technology, but also the need to assess its compliance including the installation, management, operation and public awareness. The security systems market is also set to become more highly regulated as of next year with the Data Protection Act 1998 being superseded by the statutory General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018.

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Cybersecurity: eliminating the weakest link

In adjusting to a tightening regulatory landscape, it’s clear that institutions must take a managed approach to protecting both systems and data from breaches or illegal tampering. With attacks on public sector infrastructure on the rise, including the recent ransomware cyber attack on NHS Trusts in the UK, a need for the regular review of security systems is becoming clear.

With the use of IP-connected technology now commonplace, the British Security Industry Association has warned that end-users of this technology should be taking cyber security seriously to avoid hackers gaining access to an organisation’s wider computer network.

The responsibility, therefore, not only lies with the manufacturer to ensure device security from the outset, but also with education institutions to ensure they are carefully taking into consideration all technical aspects –  for example, changing default credentials or updating firmware.

While the need for effective security systems continues to grow, the challenges in their implementation and maintenance remains clear. Among an environment of growing uncertainty, education professionals will want to demonstrate that they have a structured approach to managing security risk. This must include due consideration of technical, organisational and physical security processes.

This could be implemented through regular risk assessments and also by producing tangible evidence that best practice has been followed. Ultimately, an effective security strategy will achieve a balance between ensuring the safety and security of assets and individuals, while also managing risks that could affect an institution’s balance sheet and reputation.

NW Systems latest white paper on risk mitigation features an ‘8-point checklist’Here are our top four picks:

  • Systems are secure through regular software and firmware updates
  • Data is sufficiently protected through strong cyber and physical security measures
  • A risk mitigation review has been conducted within the last twelve months
  • We are familiar with the implications of GDPR and we will be GDPR-ready by May 2018.
About the author
Colin McKeown is a senior consultant at NW Systems Group, with over 25 years of experience in the education sector. His early experience includes time as an ICT consultant in schools during the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) era. Colin believes in transforming security solutions into safeguarding aids, an approach that has proven invaluable in ICT environments; with the right tools helping institutions to benefit from added value.

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