This photograph of my old secondary school shows a section of secure fencing and gates recently installed around the perimeter of the school grounds. Until a few months ago the boundary of the school’s playing fields were marked by wooden fencing and open gateways. These enabled the playing fields to be used by anyone for access and, in keeping with their design, sporting activities. The new fence, along with the factory-fresh lockable gates may signify a response to a real or perceived problem, and, as such this enceinte may come to be justified if the specific problem is seen to reduce or disappear.
However, problematising the arrival of this perimeter fencing reveals more fundamental concerns regarding the nature of schooling and the regulation of pupils.
One consideration is the way fencing demarcates the school as a site for education. Schools are locations where learning is territorialised; circumvallation of those locations re-territorialises learning. The school, located within the community, is now segregated from that community, with a physical barrier which acts to include some while excluding others.
A related consideration is what the fencing says about the ways in which pupils are regulated within the school environment. In her study of how the socio-spatial context of schools impacts on promoting citizenship among pupils, Brown states that “[s]chool architecture… embodies social attitudes towards children and their socialization” (2012: 21). With regards to playgrounds, while they appear to be spaces for young people, they are, as Thomson points out “a space conceived by adults to contain children at school” (2005: 76).
While concerns over the safety of either pupils and staff or buildings may have prompted the decision to cordon off the school grounds from the wider community, this enclosure may symbolise the existence of a much more significant threat to education and the development of responsible citizens
Brown, J (2012) ‘Citizens fit for the 21st century? The role of school design in facilitating citizenship and self-governance in young people’, Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 7 (1): 19-31
Thomson, S (2005) ‘Territorialising’ the primary school playground: deconstructing the geography of playtime, Children’s Geographies, 3 (1): 63-78