The legislation says:
- members of staff can search a pupil or their possessions if they suspect the pupil may be carrying an offensive weapon
- the search should be carried out by the headteacher or someone authorised by the head
- a pupil's possessions may only be searched in his or her presence and in the presence of an additional person over the age of 18
- both adults must be the same sex as the pupil; strip searches are not permitted.
Should I search a pupil?
ATL believes its members should only be involved with consensual searches of a pupil's possessions, and in the examination of the contents of a pupil's pockets should he or she voluntarily turn over the contents of their pockets to be searched.
However, even with consensual searches, ATL has major reservations about the risk of being attacked by an individual (who may have no previous or known record or history of violence) and the potentially serious consequences of such an attack.
It is also concerned that searching individuals or large groups of pupils based only on the suspicion that they have a weapon in their possession could give rise to difficulties such as:
- the potential for allegations of physical, and possibly sexual, assault
- accusations that the staff member has planted the weapon on the pupil
- the risk of becoming injured if coming in to contact with a needle or blade when carrying out the search
- the negative impact on the pupil-teacher relationship.
ATL is further concerned that, in carrying out such searches, it introduces an element to the role of teachers that could be perceived as 'policing'. Headteachers should call the police, or be allowed to commission the searches from outside experts or specialist staff who have school security as part of their job role.
ATL's advice to members is that they should not undertake non-consensual searches. School policies should be clear on this issue and provide staff with clarity as to expectations as well as support and assurance. Government guidance on searching pupils for weapons is also available.
Developing a policy
The guidance states that if a headteacher of an independent school plans to use the power to screen or search, they should draw up a policy taking into consideration the views of staff and the governing body, and this should be supported by a health and safety risk assessment.
ATL believes school representatives should play a full role in the development of the policy.
FE institutions and independent schools
Although the DCSF guidance is aimed primarily at maintained schools, including pupil referral units, it should also be helpful to independent schools and FE institutions (including sixth form colleges).
An FE college can make it a condition on enrolment for students over compulsory school age that they consent to being searched, with or without suspicion.
Similarly, although pupils over compulsory school age in school sixth forms can be searched on suspicion and without consent, a school can also make consent to being searched, with or without suspicion, a condition of enrolment for its sixth formers.