Different to an evacuation procedure, the purpose of a lockdown is to keep staff, pupils and visitors inside the school building in order to ensure their safety from an internal or external incident which has the potential to pose a threat to their safety and wellbeing.
Schools are not required by law to have lockdown procedures in place, and there is no specific guidance on how to develop lockdown plans in schools; however, school leaders should seriously consider developing and practising lockdown procedures so that they can be implemented should a situation arise where a lockdown is necessary.
This guidance document outlines aspects that should be taken into consideration when developing lockdown procedures.
A ‘dynamic lockdown’ is the ability to quickly restrict access to and exit from a site or building in response to an internal or external threat.
The National Counter Terrorism Security Office advises that advance planning of dynamic lockdown procedures can assist in saving lives should an emergency situation arise. Schools are better placed to get pupils, staff and visitors to places of safety if they have a lockdown procedure in place that is known to the whole school community.
In order to develop a dynamic lockdown procedure, the following should be considered:
- Where are all the points of access to and exit from the school premises and how can these points be locked, or otherwise secured, quickly?
- How can the school premises be sectioned to allow specific areas to be locked down?
- What roles and responsibilities should be allocated to staff members, e.g. who should be responsible for alerting the emergency services?
- What measures should be in place to ensure all members of staff are aware of their responsibilities during a lockdown, i.e. training?
- How can people be stopped from leaving or entering the site during a lockdown?
- How can the procedure be made flexible in order to adapt to changing situations, e.g. can a partial lockdown be adapted to a full lockdown quickly if a situation escalates?
Partial and full lockdown procedures
It is advisable for schools to have two different levels of lockdown – partial and full. Some situations will not pose an immediate threat to the school but a level of lockdown is still needed to ensure the safety of pupils, staff and visitors – in these cases, a partial lockdown would be suitable as safety can be ensured whilst maintaining some normality.
Implementing a partial lockdown could be as a result of a reported incident or civil disturbance in the local community with the potential to pose a risk to the school community; it may also be as a result of a warning regarding the risk of air pollution. Partial lockdowns should be seen as a precautionary measure which ensures the school is in a state of readiness should a situation escalate.
A full lockdown should be implemented when an incident poses an immediate threat to the school, such as an intruder on the school site. The procedure may also be implemented as an escalation of a partial lockdown.
While both partial and full lockdown procedures should require everyone on the school premises to retreat inside the building, the key difference between the two procedures is the extent to which members of the school are secured within the building. During a partial lockdown, free movement within the building may still be allowed if it would not compromise safety; however, a full lockdown should ensure all pupils, staff and visitors remain inside ‘safe rooms’ with the doors locked until an ‘all-clear’ signal is given.
Schools should outline the circumstances under which the school will be placed on partial or full lockdown. These circumstances need to be communicated clearly to all staff so that when an incident does arise, a decision of which level of lockdown can be made quickly.
TheSchoolBus has templates for a Full Lockdown Procedure and a Partial Lockdown Procedure which outline the different procedures schools can follow when implementing either a partial or full lockdown of the school site.
Developing lockdown procedures requires consideration of a variety of different factors, e.g. what areas are deemed as ‘safe’, what signals will be given, who will secure the building.
When thinking about the different aspects of a lockdown, it’s important that schools always have their specific circumstances in mind and develop procedures that will work most effectively in their context.
Designated safe areas within the school, which pupils and visitors will be escorted to if a lockdown is implemented, should be decided on. Rooms that fit the following criteria are most suitable:
- Interior rooms, above the ground floor if possible, with few or no exterior windows, or windows that can be sealed or covered – this prevents intruders from seeing into safe rooms and protects people inside from shattering glass
- Rooms with few or no air vents – this prevents any air pollutants spreading into the safe rooms
- Lockable rooms – this prevents easy access for intruders
- Rooms that have enough space for everyone within the room to sit down on the floor – this ensures that if people need to remain out of sight there is enough room for them to move to the floor
- Rooms with a telephone that can be used to contact people outside of the building – this ensures there is a direct connection to the emergency services
In some situations, people may not be able to retreat into the school building without compromising their safety, e.g. if an intruder is stationed by a door to the school. Whilst this is not an ideal situation, school leaders should plan for this by designating an outdoor safe area where people can wait until the emergency services arrive.
When these areas have been identified, school leaders should ensure these are specified in the lockdown procedures and communicated to all members of staff.
There should be signals for the implementation of a lockdown and when the lockdown has ended (i.e. the all-clear signal). Different signals should be assigned to the different types of lockdown, i.e. partial or full.
Then it should be decided how these signals will be delivered should a lockdown need to be implemented. If a school has a PA system, they may feel this is the best way to alert the school that a lockdown is in place; alternatively, the school bell could also be used.
It is vital that pupils and staff are aware of the different signals, as confusion about these could limit the effectiveness of the lockdown procedure. Lockdown procedures should also specify who gives the lockdown signal – can any member of staff do this, or does the headteacher need to be consulted first?
Securing the building
There should be a procedure for ensuring that all external doors and windows are secured when all pupils, staff and visitors are inside the building. Lockdown procedures should specify which member(s) of staff is responsible for this.
If free movement is not allowed during lockdown, there also needs to be a method for ensuring the doors and windows to safe rooms have been locked. This could be done via two-way radio where each member of staff confirms that the safe room they are in is secure.
Some lockdowns may be triggered due to air pollution in the local area. In these cases, ensure there are plans in place to close all air vents to stop the pollutant spreading into the school building.
Procedures should also include information about how pupils, staff and visitors will be accounted for to ensure that any missing people are identified.
Where a school’s safe rooms are classrooms, when a partial lockdown is implemented and, therefore, a less threatening incident is taking place, there may be time to ensure pupils return to their normal classrooms – making registration easier as class teachers can conduct their normal register.
In emergency situations where it would compromise safety to ensure all pupils return to their normal classrooms, it may be more appropriate for a staff member to write down all of the names of the pupils, staff and visitors in the room and report this to the designated member of staff who has been allocated the responsibility of registration.
Visitors will also need to be accounted for; a method for this could be to cross check their names with the signing-in book in the school office. Schools should ensure alternative methods for accounting for visitors are included in lockdown procedures in case the school office cannot be accessed.
Procedures should also specify what should be done if anyone is unaccounted for. It is important to consider that searches should only be conducted if it is safe to do so, otherwise it may be best to await the emergency services.
Methods that will be used for internal communication should be specified in lockdown procedures; these could include two-way radios, mobile phones, email and instant messaging.
It is advised that verbal methods (e.g. radios and mobile phones) are kept to essential communication, especially during a full lockdown. Verbal methods should not be used where it would be unsafe to do so, e.g. if it would lead to a location being revealed. Procedures should also specify that mobile phones be switched onto silent to avoid detection.
Parents should be informed of the lockdown as soon as is possible. If a school has a service to send text messages to parents, this could be used to inform them of the lockdown. Alternatively, schools could pre-record an answer phone message on the main school phone that informs callers a lockdown procedure is in place.
Parents may contact the school concerned about their child, and there should be a method for dealing with these calls written into lockdown procedures. In order to deal with these queries, lockdown procedures should specify the name and contact details of the staff member who will answer calls from parents. Schools should make parents aware that their calls may not be answered immediately, especially if the incident that caused the lockdown is particularly severe, as staff members may be occupied with other duties.
To ensure that the lockdown can be implemented as effectively as possible, the procedure should detail staff responsibilities. Responsibilities that should be allocated include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The decision to implement and signal a lockdown
- Contacting the emergency services
- Liaison with parents
- Pupil control
Staff and school volunteers should undergo regular training on the school’s lockdown procedures to ensure they are aware of and understand their roles. Induction of new staff should also include making them aware of their responsibilities during a lockdown.
One of the most effective ways of ensuring all staff and pupils are aware of what to do if a lockdown is implemented is to conduct different exercises to practise the lockdown. Practises are also an effective way of highlighting areas of the response that may have been overlooked when developing the plan, or areas that can be improved.
There are various ways of practising lockdown procedures, including the following:
- Discussion-based exercises – this involves asking staff to discuss how the school would respond to a scenario. This gives staff the opportunity to talk about their roles and discuss what actions the school would take.
- Table-top exercises – this involves simulating the response to an incident. Different to discussion-based exercises, each participant is expected to undertake a specific role and outline the actions they would take whilst an incident unfolds.
- Live exercises – this involves physically acting out a lockdown, and can be run in the same way as a fire drill. This is usually the best method of validating the lockdown plan as pupils can also be involved.
Lockdown drills should be undertaken at least annually; however, more regular practises are more likely to increase familiarity for pupils and teachers. Before a lockdown drill takes place, schools should advise parents that this will be happening.
Information notices could also be posted throughout the school informing pupils and staff of what to do during a lockdown. TheSchoolBus’ Lockdown Procedure Posters, one for pupils and one for staff members, can be displayed around the school site to inform staff and pupils of what to do if a lockdown procedure is invoked.
Parents should also be made aware that the school has practised lockdown procedures in place so they can be reassured that the school is equipped to deal with emergencies. The procedure should be made known to parents so they are aware of what will happen and who they can contact should the school implement a lockdown – this could be done via a newsletter or by sending a letter home.
Lockdown procedures should be reviewed at least annually and in light of drills or real-life use for their effectiveness. Any changes made to procedures should be clearly communicated to all staff members, pupils and parents.
National Counter Terrorism Security Office (2015) ‘Developing Dynamic Lockdown Procedures’
Newton Burgoland Primary School (2013) ‘Lockdown procedures at Newton Burgoland Primary School’
Norfolk County Council (2015) ‘Partial and Full School Lockdowns’
North Somerset Council (2017) ‘Lockdown Procedures for Schools Guidance 2017’
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School (2015) ‘Lockdown guidance and procedures’
Surrey County Council (2016) ‘Lockdown Procedures Guidance for Schools’