On 22 March 2017, Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people and injuring more than 50, before fatally stabbing PC Keith Palmer outside the House of Commons. He was then shot dead by another policeman.
For the London Early Years Foundation, which runs a nursery inside the House of Commons, this terrible event had a direct impact, with staff and children unable to leave until well into the evening. Chief executive June O’Sullivan says, ‘The nursery, with over 40 children, was locked down until 9.30 in the evening. The next day, the team arrived for work at 8am. They felt obligated to be brave and show that they could continue to run a service. They commented about the sense of desolation and eerie quiet as they arrived, but it made them all the more determined to carry on.’
While previous emphasis in dealing with terrorism has been on preventing radicalisation, the Westminster, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks this year have given rise to the possibility of children, staff or parents being involved in an attack itself. For some, the Prevent programme and evacuation plans are enough; others are developing or already implementing their own bespoke ‘terrorism policies.’ One such is Puddle-Ducks Nursery in Putney. Tina Champion, chief executive of Lifetimes Charity, which owns the nursery, said, ‘It’s fine to use some generic wording, but what does that actually mean you are doing? We want to start a conversation about it.’
Jo Baranek, lead early years advisor for the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), says, ‘The introduction of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 required nurseries to have a stronger stance on spotting and reporting concerns about radicalisation. [All registered early years childcare providers are required to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ under the act]. However, this year has seen an increase in terror attacks and these have affected nurseries both directly and indirectly.’
Despite this, a spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) admits there is currently no specific guidance for early years settings and points nursery owners to the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO)’s advice for crowded places (see further information).
The spokesperson explains, ‘It is up to individual nurseries to contact their local Counter Terrorism Security Advisors (CTSAs) for guidance as they will be able to access free security training via this route. Nurseries can contact CTSAs through their local force websites.’
Many local authorities, among them Ealing, Central Bedfordshire and Surrey, are recommending schools draft lockdown procedures in the event of a terrorist attack, involving keeping external doors and windows locked, blinds or curtains closed and pupils out of sight and in silence.
However, without specific advice, nurseries are having to come up with their own ideas to deal with a similar situation. For example, while NaCTSO says its general advice, including ‘run, hide, tell’, is applicable to nurseries, this is not without problems when dealing with young children.
Truly Scrumptious Nurseries in Romford and Ongar in Essex implement ‘run, hide, tell’ with children, ‘but in a playful game way’. Owner Patricia Trew explains, ‘We play hide-and-seek games and sing songs like sleepy bunnies where the children lie down and pretend to be asleep. When we practise it we let them jump and sing and scream at the end, but at least it means they have experience of the situation and you know you can get them to stay with you.’
LEYF’s Ms O’Sullivan says, ‘We review our policies every month and make sure everyone knows exactly what’s happening so there is no panic. We are practised and calm and so we won’t be running round like headless chickens in the event anything did happen. It’s like a fire drill. We do it continuously so it just becomes part of the routine, although at the same time of course you hope you would never have to deal with it.
‘Children love to hide and run but we need to do this within a context that helps them understand when they can and cannot run and hide.’
In the wake of the terror attacks earlier this year, Ms O’Sullivan also put in place emergency drills across the company.
She says, ‘We started from the premise that practise makes perfect and reviewed our approach to emergency responses including evacuation and lockdown. What was needed was an increased confidence among staff to cope with both routine and unexpected emergencies.
‘We started by agreeing a selection of scenarios to be carried out at the same time across six to eight nurseries in at least two London boroughs twice a year. Many of the scenarios we use are based on real life. We keep the process simple; inform head office and the nurseries which have been chosen for the drill the afternoon of the day before. We give them limited information and ask that parents and stakeholders are informed that we will be doing an organisational drill. Generally, parents have been very supportive of our approach.
‘The whole emergency evacuation process is complex so we allocate an observer to each nursery. They are not allowed to comment or advise, but capture what actually happened on a templated form which is later used as part of the review process. They would only step in if there was a real risk of safety to the children and staff.’
NaCTSO has reassured practitioners that while the current threat level is severe, meaning an attack is highly likely, the threat to educational establishments, especially nurseries, is ‘incredibly small’.
However, a spokesperson advises that ‘organisations, be they businesses or otherwise, [should] have an emergency plan written and trained with staff so they would know what to do in the very unlikely event they were ever involved in a terrorist attack’.
Ms O’Sullivan says having an ‘emergency plan’ to provide a calm and measured response was more important for nurseries to focus on than the specific threat of a terror attack.
‘I think calling it a terrorism policy is a bad idea,’ she says. ‘Recently we had to evacuate our Brixton nursery because of a fire in the shops underneath the nursery, which required the same skills and responses as to a terrorist attack.
‘Quite often the police don’t know it is terrorism until much later anyway. It’s all about being ready to respond, and it’s about staff practice, calm responses and resilience in the face of adversity.’
In the event that a lockdown policy cannot be applied, many nurseries will use a more generic emergency policy they already have in place.
Ms Trew says Truly Scrumptious Nurseries try to link their evacuation policies to teaching British values. ‘We try to incorporate queuing up and turn-taking. There is no pushing or overtaking, and we get the children to put their arms on the shoulders of the children in front to make a choo-choo train.’
Several nurseries say they have looked to revise their late collection policies in the event of a terrorist attack if parents cannot reach the setting or be contacted. NDNA advises nurseries to try to keep the phone line clear to enable emergency services to get through if they need to, and recommends they consider arrangements for overnight care.
Lifetimes Charity’s Ms Champion says, ‘We have to think what we would do if there was another situation like 7/7 and the transport and communication systems were down, parents couldn’t contact us and we couldn’t contact social services. We have a lot of parents who work in the City, and if they get stuck there, when we close at 7pm what are we supposed to do?’
Puddle-Ducks Nursery has asked parents to provide a second set of emergency contact details for use in the event of a terror attack, and has suggested they use another nursery parent, so any parents able to get to the setting could collect others’ children and keep them overnight.
Debbie White, co-owner of Peter Pans Day Nursery in Essex, has started to contact local schools and churches about working together in the event of having to evacuate the nursery, especially if the setting then needed space to keep the children overnight.
Truly Scrumptious Nurseries have called on parents who are police officers to review the settings’ terrorism policy. Partly as a result of these consultations, the nurseries now request a password from parents before they enter, and ask all visitors to leave bags in the office before going into the setting. Managers have bought mobile phones for staff with the camera and key tones disabled, on which numbers for the police, Ofsted and Prevent are saved. Staff have also been briefed on dialling 55 after 999 if it is too dangerous to speak on the phone.
GOING IT ALONE
The DfE confirms it is developing further policy guidance alongside NaCTSO, but declines to comment on whether this would apply to the early years sector specifically.
Ms O’Sullivan calls on Ofsted to start thinking about the early years’ response to the terror threat, and says the sector should be part of local infrastructure emergency planning protocols.
Instead of waiting for guidance from local government, LEYF is refining its own practice and sharing it with other settings across the country, including nurseries in Manchester that contacted it following the terrorist attack in the city in May.
Ms Champion agrees the sector needs to work together. ‘We are drafting a terrorism policy for Puddle-Ducks, but it is very much a work in progress. We’re very keen to see what everyone else is doing because it’s such a new area for us.
‘There are a lot of different areas to look at. No nursery can cover every eventuality. As the leader of a nursery you have to be the one to think about it. We have to take the lead, or the finger will be pointed at us.’
National Counter Terrorism Security Office’s Crowded Places Guidance, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/619411/170614_crowded-places-guidance_v1.pdf
The NDNA has a lockdown policy and a factsheet on its website, www.ndna.org.uk
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