On 18 January 2018, the Department for Education (DfE) updated the searching, screening and confiscation guidance for headteachers, school staff and governing bodies.
This statutory guidance sets out the power schools have when searching pupils, both with or without consent, and their right to confiscate items found during the searches.
With consent – school staff may search pupils with their consent for any item. It is recommended that schools clearly state in their behaviour policy what items are banned. Therefore, if staff suspect a pupil is carrying a banned item and refuses to co-operate, then the appropriate level of punishment may be applied.
Without consent – a headteacher or other member of staff authorised by the headteacher may carry out a search without consent, where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a pupil has a prohibited item (for example, knives, alcohol, stolen items, fireworks etc). The search must be carried out by someone of the same sex and in the presence of a witness. The only exception to this rule is when it is reasonably believed that there is a risk of serious harm unless the search is carried out immediately.
School staff may use reasonable force when conducting searches for prohibited items and may only carry out these searches on school grounds or during school trips in England. School staff (other than security) may refuse to carry out a search and the headteacher should consider if additional training is required for those who have the power to search.
A school’s powers are more flexible for screening. A school may require a pupil to undergo screening, such as a walk-through or hand held detector, even if it does not suspect the pupil of holding a banned or harmful item – consent is not required. If a pupil refuses to be screened, the school may refuse to have the pupil on the premises and the absence would then be treated as unauthorised. Arrangements would need to be in place in relation to pupils who board, if the pupil is required to leave the premises of the school.
Following a search, school staff may confiscate, retain or dispose of any prohibited items found during the search, as well as any other items that may be harmful or detrimental to school discipline. Schools have the discretion to retain or dispose of the items but for certain items, such as controlled drugs or pornographic images, in appropriate cases they should be passed to the police.
If an electronic device is found and there is reason to suspect it might be used to commit an offence, cause personal injury or damage to property, then school staff may examine data or files on the device where there is a good reason to do so. Such data or files may be deleted in some circumstances (we suggest you obtain advice before doing so) but if the data/files may be relevant to a potential criminal offence it should be passed to the police as soon as reasonably practicable. Schools should have appropriate polices in place dealing with these issues.
For further advice on the above topics, please call us on 01483 543210 or alternatively email email@example.com