Ensuring Student Safety and Well-Being in Residential Schools
Detailing the safety and security measures
Author: Ms. Neeru Dutta Sharma
“Residential schools are safe havens for the students where they can enjoy their childhood and explore the world beyond home”
Security and safety measures employed in residential schools are to be abided by residential schools for the well being of students. The safety in residential schools is different from day schools as the residential schools are home for students. There are regulations and legislation regarding student safety, common safety concerns and their resolution in the constitution. There is an importance of physical and emotional well-being of the child in residential schools which needs to be looked after very closely as students are very impressionable at this age. Residential schools are based on the concept of Gurukuls; it was a type of residential schooling in ancient India based on trust for safety and well-being of students.
“Putting children into boarding schools was the best way to make them independent”
Introduction to Residential Schools
Student safety and well-beingisa crucialaspect of residential schools and no doubt, safety measures in such schools are different from those in day schools. Residential schools are not just ahome away from home for students but much more. The school provides them with an experience for learning, living and thriving with children of the same age, which is rare to get at home. They learn from each other, learn social, emotional skills and become independent sooner than they would be at home. These schools enrich their curriculum with academic as well as social activities on campus, to impact the overall development of their students.
Residential schools are safe havens for the students where they can enjoy their childhood and explore the world beyond home. Traditional boarding schools have dorms and 50 or more students are accommodated in each dorm, under the supervision of one Matron and several House masters. This is a good concept because students are never alone at boarding school. Most residential schools have the facility of an infirmary, with one doctor and 2 nurses. These dorms are away from the academic block and dining area, and all arrangements are made for fire safety. In residential schools, children are not permitted to meet anyone from outside, for point of view of their security. Teachers escort studentsto the classes, dining areas and all outdoor activities.
“Concepts of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ are inculcated at a young age, so that students are at no time exposed to unpredictable behavior”
History of Residential Schools
In fact, the concept of residential schooling came from the GURUKUL system. It was a type of residential schooling system in ancient India, with shishya (students) living near or with the guru, in the same house. The word ‘Gurukula’ is a combination of the Sanskrit words ‘Guru’ (teacher or master) and ‘Kula’ (family or home). However, there is no information about girls’ residential schools in olden days, in the Indian context.
In the late 19th century, all-boys’ residential schools came into existence, where parents wanted to establish regimental standardsfor their male children,as patriarchal society dictated that boys may not depend too much on adults. The belief underlying this dictum was that children may become too ‘nice’ or ‘protected’, if left under the care of their families. Putting children into boarding schools was the best way to make them independent. These were traditional boarding schools, which consisted of dormitories, a large common dining area and little focus on co-curricular activities.
In countries across the western world, residential schools eventually came to be associated with NGOs and religious organisations. History has witnessed how children were exploited in such organisations. However,bythe 21st century both parents started working and there was a shift towards boarding school culture.
“All staircases, toilets, classrooms and meeting rooms are built for child safety, with secure windows located at a safe height, for ventilation”
Residential Schools- Houses Complex Safety and Security Measures
At this juncture, it is important to distinguish between boarding and residential schools. The terms have been employed interchangeably in this article. Yet, a boarding school is intended to provided education and accommodation in one campus, with priority given to discipline and academics. A residential school focuses on all aspects of student life, including focus on better dorms, friendly staff, and many modern facilities.
Day schools are different from boarding schools, as students go home in the afternoons and are back at school the next morning. Safety and security is required in day schools as well,yet not in the way we expect from boarding schools. The teachers, wardens and Principal of a residential school need to be very sensitive about students’ emotional, physical and academic needs. In most such schools, students are engaged in such a manner, that they are quite exhausted and do not indulge in any fights or bad behavior, including addiction. A personal counselor takes care of students’counseling needs and other behavior concerns.
There could be diverse reasons for sending children to boarding schools. Lack of good schools in neighbourhood, working parents or a single parent, socio-emotional environment of home is ill suited for the child, or the house has a culture of sending children to boarding schools are few common reasons.These circumstances place further emphasis on safety and security of the students and staff.
There are legislations in every country for the operation of residential schools, as different from residential colleges and children’s homes. These guidelines clearly place the onus of being ‘residential’ on the schools, thus differentiating them from day schools and day boarding schools. While each country has its own laws for the maintenance and day-to-day running of residential schools, the UK National Minimum Standards guidelines act as an efficient and reliable reference, since they are regularly updated and preserve the history of much law-making across the world.
Safety and Security Measures Employed
Safety is essential in itself, as opposed to security, which is required due to external forces. All residential schools have dedicated security teams, mostly consisting of retired military personnel. The premises are guarded twenty-four hours each day, with diligent records maintained regarding the whereabouts and schedules of every student, staff and visitor. Such demanding rules are required by the local law-enforcing agencies, as records may be sought at any time. The same guidelines are adhered to during off-school time and vacations. Visitors, including student families, are escorted to their respective area of errands and no individual, whether student or visitor is ever left alone. Most of the schools follow a buddy system, where students are allowed to move within an enclosed area only in pairs.
As part of safety, residential schools teach kids skills early on in their age, which they may not learn at home. It is essential for schools to recognize that children have different behavior patterns, personalities and what may be rapport for one, may become aggression for another. Children in such schools are required to adhere to modern standards of acceptable behavior, including greeting and physical contact. Concepts of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ are inculcated at a young age, so that students are at no time exposed to unpredictable behavior. Children are advised of appropriate language and tone to use with everyone. Contracted employees and support staffs aremeticulously hired, based on their social moorings, education and references. Stringent background checks are conducted on all employees, including the teaching staff.
Physical safety is maintained by ensuring all surfaces are non-slippery, with no sharp or protruding objects in any part of the campus. Old or unoccupied buildings are attended at all times. Any large meeting area, such as the sporting fields, courts and poolside are always watched. The food preparation area is removed from academic and residential blocks, with adequate and well-maintained chimneys, with additional ventilation. Food is thoroughly tested and checked for quality at every stage.
Where large residential and cooking spaces are present, fire is a possible hazard. Safety standards advised by the government are adhered to, by stocking and maintaining sufficient number of appropriate class fire extinguishers. Fire drills are regularly conducted by trained staff and visiting professionals. All staircases, toilets, classrooms and meeting rooms are built for child safety, with secure windows located at a safe height, for ventilation. Lighting is checked periodically, with maximum emphasis placed on natural lighting. All such enclosed spaces should be sufficiently large, to accommodate the daily number of students and any planned events.
Another relevant aspect of safety is the outdoor and sporting precautions necessary for students in residential schools. The operating authorities of such schools are considered accountable for students’ health and safety, when children are part of school adventure tours and field trips. The school management ensures that only reliable tour runners, with government licenses, are contracted. In fact, school staff is trained in the required physical activities, so that students are adequately supervised and guided throughout their tours and on campus.Along with this, a good number of staff is trained in first aid, CPR and paramedical assistance, so that any medical issues may be handled adequately. It is the responsibility of the school to provide safe and accident-free premises, during sporting activities. However, the law understands that injuries may occur and must be approached as part of physical activity. Here, it is not entirely possible to hold the school accountable for all injuries. Nevertheless, the schools have the responsibility to ensure safe activities and transportation, including maintenance and thorough checking of vehicles, as well as verification of transport and other third party suppliers.
The most critical aspect of safety is the emotional well-being of children and staff. While school members become a support group for their colleagues, in terms of their emotional welfare and habits, it is essential for the children to access adult help. For instance, incidents of bullying need to be tackled immediately, since children in such schools belong to varied backgrounds. A watchful teacher support group plays the key role, while the management articulates and implements the policy, irrespective of the individual student family involved in the matter. Homesickness becomes another reason for aggressive behavior amongst residential students. Constant supervision can easily make children feel like they are in the spotlight all the time, which brings out insecurities. Sometimes, a resistant habit may make the child feel lack of acceptance, which may lead to unpredictable moods and behavior. It is for the school to understand that appointing counselors is not a sufficient measure. While this may work in day schools, it is for the teachers to take ownership for such situations in residential schools. Alongwith periodical training in related areas, such as disabilities or addictions, the teaching and support staff must be sensitized to student needs and their responses to the environment. Once teachers and support staff sense their role as a group amidst such concerns, they become able to address each instance as a part of their role as school members, and not as someone else’s ‘job’. This makes it more practicable for the professional counselors to lend their insight and methods, to resolve such crucial issues.
“It is the responsibility of the school to provide safe and accident-free premises, during sporting activities”
Today’s residential schools are very expensive where students have all modern facilities, such as gymnasium, movie hall, departmental stores, and rooms equipped with A/C facilities, refrigerator, television and attached bath. These kinds of boarding houses are available for rich students so that they feel at home. Moreover, in this world of technology, students can keep electric gadgets with them. Catering is multi-cuisine, done by five star chefs. And housekeeping is available for cleaning and making beds. With all these facilities, authorities do not compromise with the safety and security of students.
Definitely, the Internet makes it difficult to supervise student activity, especially since much of these interactions are of a personal nature due to social media. It is critical in this matter that schools firewall all such sites, which allow obscene content on the Internet. Students should be allowed to use only phones, which are Internet, disabled. Internet activity for students should be monitored through a common server, lacking which the school will have to take ownership for unsavory activity. While these measures may seem draconian at this juncture, one must understand that the personal lives of many youngsters and their families are involved and the smallest personal detail may prove embarrassing enough for some children to be scarred for a long time, not to mention other drastic consequences. If the school expects to safeguard young people, children who are in the process of building their future, it must equip itself and be adequately prepared.
In a nutshell, residential schools can be a safe haven for children giving them a fulfilled childhood and honest and life-shaping education and a school community just like a loving caring family forever.
“Internet activity for students should be monitored through a common server, lacking which the school will have to take ownership for unsavory activity”
About the author
Ms. NeeruDutta Sharma
Ms. NeeruDutta Sharma is the Principal of Kimberley-The International School. She has extensive experience of International education, such as International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International Education in different countries. She has gained teaching experience in India, Botswana and China and attended workshops and conferences across the world. She is always looking for opportunities to learn about new cultures through her extensive travels. In her recent travels, she had the opportunityto learn about Finland’s education system, which according to her has helped her to further her teaching methodology. It is her dream to continue to foster confident students who can analyze, assess and accomplish argument with their own hypotheses, inference and conclusions, as well as conceive an original work or interpret an existing work.