News Archive

Knife Opportunities

by msecadm4921

Teachers have the power to search pupils for knives and offensive weapons without consent. According to the Government, it’s part of a drive to ensure schools continue to be safe and secure places to learn. Guidance on searches makes clear the opportunity of work for private security officers, and trainers.

According to the Deaprtment for Education guidance: “Members of school staff voluntarily undertaking a search of pupils in their own school are not required to hold a [door supervision] licence under the Private Security Industry Act 2001.” That said, training should be wide enough to cover awareness of what constitutes a weapon; the issue of any protective clothing for searchers; recording an evidence trail; confiscation of illegal items; and detaining a pupil after a weapon is found. The guidance suggests that local trainers in weapons awareness and search techniques could help to assess a school’s needs and arrange suitable training with a head teacher, or with a group of heads and staff. Quoting Skills for Security, the department says that about 40 certificated trainers offer basic weapons awareness. The guidance points out that some schools or local authorities might already pay a firm to supplement or provide security services – such as mobile patrols at night-time. As for where schools go for contract guards, the guidance quotes the Security Industry Authority (SIA) register of approved contractors – although the guidance makes no comment as to whether schools ought to use only approved firms – and the BSIA website.

Schools can screen pupils for violent weapons using devices such as arches and ‘wand’ metal detectors. Guidance for schools on how best to use these new measures, also published on May 31, makes it clear that screening and searching can be carried out by trained security staff, as well as teachers, but where there is felt to be any risk to safety, the police should be called.

What they say

Education and Skills Secretary, Alan Johnson said: “Every child has the right to learn in a secure and safe environment. Fortunately knife incidents in schools are extremely rare and the majority of schools will not need to use these measures. The main way to keep knives out of our schools is to continue educating young people about the dangers associated with illegally carrying a knife. But one violent crime caused by a weapon is one too many.

“This new power was called for by teachers, but our guidance makes clear that a search should never take place where there is any risk to staff or pupils. In those circumstances the police should be called. Schools can also use metal detector arches and wands to screen pupils for knives where the head feels this is helpful and would work as a deterrent. I think parents will welcome the clear message that bringing a weapon into school is a criminal offence and will not be tolerated.

“Screening, alongside today’s new power for searches, means that schools now have the law behind them so they can take the necessary action to prevent weapons from coming through the front gate.”

For copies of the guidance visit:

The guidance suggests that randomly selected group of pupils, such as a class, could be screened, to send a strong deterrent message. The guidance also makes clear that a pupil can be refused entry to the school or a visit if they refuse to be screened. The guidance highlights the fact that no member of staff, unless authorised by the head teacher, can undertake a search. Two members of staff must always be present at a search; the search must be undertaken by a staff member who is the same sex as the pupil; and where possible, it should take place out of public view.

What unions say

How useful is the power? The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) said it believes strongly that it is the job of the police to search individuals for weapons. They are trained and have the appropriate body armour. NAHT advice to our members will be to call for police assistance should they suspect that a weapon is being carried. As for metal detectors and other screening devices, heads will use their judgement. However, given the size of most secondary schools and the number of entrances and exits they are likely to be somewhat impractical.

David Tuck, National President, NAHT, said: “It needs to be remembered that most schools are safe and secure places where children are happy. The overwhelming majority of children go to school to learn, not to fight.”

Meanwhile the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers), while welcoming the new power, stressed that searches were for security staff. Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary, said: “TThis provision, together with random airport-style checks and the new provisions on pupil behaviour, will provide schools with a menu of strategies from which they can choose to assist them in maintaining high standards of safety, good order and discipline. Despite the growing weapon-carrying culture on the streets, incidents involving weapons in schools are still extremely rare. These measures will assist schools in ensuring it remains that way.

“I welcome the fact that the Government took seriously our representations and removed any expectation that teachers and headteachers would carry out searches themselves. Such an expectation would have been counterproductive and would have had an adverse effect on the nature of a teacher’s relationship with pupils. Conducting searches is a job for appropriately trained staff who have site security as part of their role. It is likely that the majority of schools will never need to use these measures. However, all schools will still need to consider how they will be incorporated into their policies and procedures to ensure that they are prepared fully should the need arise.”

What if pupils refuse to co-operate, or staff are accused of touching or holding a pupil indecently? Whatof human rights? As a teacher says – on the Government’s own teachernet website – being searched isn’t dignified; and for some children, in the morning ‘they put their knives in their pockets like they put their mobile and their keys in their pocket’. The 24-page guidance on screening and searching pupils makes plain that the power should only be used as a last resort; and if a school decides a search would not be safe, they should call the police. Staff should guard the pupil with reasonable force as necessary until the police arrive. Staff should similarly guard a pupil when they have called the police to attend, to search that pupil. According to the guidance: “A head teacher cannot require anyone other than a member of the security staff to carry out a search where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a pupil has a knife or offensive weapon with him …” As the guidance shows, there are minefields around race and possible injustice, whereby a pupil is forced to store a weapon. “A head teacher should not be discouraged from having a pupil searched just because the pupil belongs incidentally to an ethnic or religious minority,” the guidance says.

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said: “These new measures in the Violent Crime Reduction Act send out a clear message that violence and weapons will not be tolerated in our schools. It is important that schools remain a safe haven where teachers and pupils are protected, even in challenging areas. We must stop problems in the wider community passing through the school gate. Young people are often the victims of crime and it is our duty to protect them. I’m sure that we have the full support of parents, teachers and the vast majority of well-behaved pupils in making schools safe ‘no go areas’ for weapons.”

The power applies to schools and further education establishments in England. . The Welsh Assembly Government will separately consider whether and when to bring the power to search into force in Wales. The Violent Crime Reduction Act received Royal Assent in November 2006 and its measures have been introduced on a staggered basis.

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