The blight of school fences

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Fencing at Hughes Primary School... bigger and more dramatic than fences around a series of relatively new embassies in nearby Deakin – where a genuine security risk exists.

Fences around schools are an ugly blight on the urban landscape, says MICHAEL MOORE

PETER Harrison must be rolling in his grave. The proliferation of school fences simply torpedoes his vision for Canberra.

From the 1960s Canberra’s suburbs were developed to have a heart with the primary school and the shops close to each other and within safe walking distance of the surrounding homes.

Schools and their surrounds were designed to be part of the infrastructure rather than an edifice that is only open for lessons from nine to three on weekdays.

Harrison followed on from Walter Burley Griffin as the second great Canberra planner. He was the chief planner of the National Capital Development Commission from 1959 until the late 1960s and was responsible for much of the way Canberra looks today with the dispersed city centres, the Y-plan and the current suburban form.

The Gungahlin suburb of Harrison is named after him.

The character of Canberra suburbs originates from the “garden city concept” of  Ebenezer Howard and included suburbs without front fences.

A similar concept was extended to schools that were designed to be at the hub of the local community with easy access after hours and throughout the weekend.

The playing fields of the schools were not only designed for the school, but to be part of the community infrastructure. Kicking a footy, throwing a ball, taking a dog for a walk and similar activities are just part the open urban environment of a healthy community.

A spokesman for Deputy Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, told “CityNews” that there are more school fences to come.

The ACT schools budget under the Security Fencing Program for 2010-11 “allocated $1 million for the installation of security fences at schools assessed as having a high and medium-security risk. Work has been completed at the Hughes, Lyneham and Monash Primary Schools, Lanyon and Lyneham High Schools and Canberra College (Woden campus)”.

However, it is not stopping there.  Funds have been allocated in the 2011-12 budget for the installation of security fences at a further six schools; Southern Cross Early Childhood School, Latham, Macquarie, Torrens and Wanniassa Primary Schools and Black Mountain School.

The plague is rapidly spreading with the Minister’s office suggesting that more than 40 schools have now been fenced. Are there any schools that will not be considered a security risk and will escape the pestilence?

It seems the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing.

The budget proposals have come through education and the planners have allowed them to slip through. It is not hard to understand schools wanting to deal with issues such as incidence of vandalism, break and enter or graffiti attacks.

However, such reasons have to be balanced against community benefit that comes from open urban spaces, the character of our city and the options for handling such issues.

Another factor that is taken into account is how close schools are situated close to public places. This is the very point. Schools are, and should remain, public places.

The Government might argue that there has been strong school community support for completed fences. However, they are an ugly blight on the urban landscape.

The comparatively less-secure fencing around the embassy of Botswana.
The fence around Hughes Primary School, for example, is much bigger and more dramatic than fences around a series of relatively new embassies in nearby Deakin – where a genuine security risk exists.

They also argue the design of new security fences “complement and enhance the existing security systems in schools” and “designs, and alignments are in accordance with planning regulations”.

They also argue fences are tested against the principles and strategies of crime prevention fencing guidelines. Such arguments carry some weight, but have not been adequately balanced against the community loss.

Most people would accept placing a fence next to a busy road. However, this school fencing program is simply a creeping urban blight and should be terminated.

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.


  1. I was very annoyed by this article. Did Michael Moore ever stop to think that the fences might also be there to protect the students as well as school property?

    Both Hughes Primary and Monash Primary (along with many other schools in Canberra)have learning support units, including students with autism spectrum disorder. As a mother of a year two boy with ASD I am very much in support of fencing around schools. My son is now at a point where he won’t run away ALL the time but if things are not going well he may well decide to throw himself in front of a car. It wouldn’t take him long, given that there are only very short fences around some parts of the playground, with gaps here and there to make it easier to get out and no fence at all for the majority of the perimeter of the school grounds. There are usually only one or two teachers on playground duty and they are not going to notice that he is gone.

    In fact, just a few weeks ago I had my mum visiting and we went to pick him up a few minutes early. Driving alongside the school playground, I spotted my son strolling along the footpath with a large stick and an elderly man. Thank goodness it was just a grandparent coming to pick up a student but I was then able to put my son in the car with his grandma and no-one even noticed. I was shocked, to say the least. This is a boy who gets extra funding for the school based on his high needs, particularly in the area of safety.

    I am one of the lucky ones. My son isn’t really into climbing. The autism specific learning support unit at his school has a high fence around its smaller playground so that there is somewhere for the kids to play more safely if need be, but I have heard that some of the more nimble and determined kids can scale it, no problem. It’s MUCH higher than a pool fence so I feel for the parents of those kids. The constant vigilance must be utterly draining. I know plenty of ASD mums’ who say they know all their neighbours because they keep finding their child in their backyard or living room, after the child has hunted down the keys to the back door, unlocked three locks, and climbed over the back fence.

    I will be happy to see a big ugly fence go up around my son’s primary school. At least then I will feel pretty confident that he’s going to come home in one piece.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with fiona. The fences may be ugly to some, but if they stop a child chasing a ball on to the road, where motorists seem to be 40-zone averse, or prevent a stranger walking on to the grounds and taking a child, more fences need to be put up.

  3. I agree with the previous comments – children should be kept safe or as safe as is possible and if a fence helps then building a fence is a priority. Canberra has plenty of parks for the community to enjoy; they don’t have to be right next door at the school!

    • Fencing students in is not the puprose of ACT school fences – that is a separate issue. It requires a different response.

      The security fences policy is about keeeping vandals out – hence the spear-tops. Research linking erection of school fences with irreversible social harm is available. In summary fences won’t control what good caring societies can do already.
      Creating fearscapes through exaggeration of risks has its manifstation in security fences. The sooner we understand that spatial apartheid doesn’t work and get on with the real business of school and society improvement the better.

  4. I hate the fences, at my childrens school they are locked 15 mins after schools finished if you dont make it out you have to walk around the school. My daughter who is 5 years old ran out the gate because she was scared of being locked in; then the evil woman who locks the gate, locked her out; wouldnt open it, so my daughter was locked out; I was locked in, lucky her dad was there and managed to climb over the massive fence.
    Also I have seen small balls go through the fence; children run out the gate to go get them.

  5. Before they had to renovate my children’s school because of asbestos, Taylor Primary, my special needs son kept trying to run home. They then had to send a fit teacher to run after him. Since they did the renovation they have put a fence around it and there is less chance of him escaping. I’m quite happy to have the fences around the schools. Not all children will willing stay safely within the school surroundings. I think the safety of the children should be a higher concern than what the fences look like.

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