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New Guidance on Searching, Screening and Confiscation - What Schools Need to Know

on Thursday, 22 March 2018.

The DfE has released updated advice in relation to Searching, Screening and Confiscation. What are the key points from it?

Searching with Consent

Headteachers and staff can search a pupil for any item if the pupil agrees. There is no need for written consent and parental consent is not required.

Searching without Consent 

Headteachers and authorised staff have a statutory power to search pupils and/or their possessions without consent, where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting pupils may have a prohibited item. The prohibited items are:

  • knives and weapons
  • alcohol
  • illegal drugs
  • stolen items
  • tobacco and cigarette papers fireworks
  • pornographic images/videos
  • any item that staff reasonably suspects has been, or is likely to be used to:
    - commit an offence
    - cause personal injury to any person (including the pupil)
    - damage to the property of any person (including the pupil)
  • any item which has been identified in the 'school rules' (Behaviour Policy) as an item which may be searched for.

Confiscation and Disposal of Items

Staff can seize, retain and dispose of any prohibited item found, as well as items they consider harmful or detrimental to school discipline. Staff may also confiscate an item as a sanction, if stated in their Behaviour Policy.

The advice goes on to set out what schools must do with items prohibited by law. This is statutory guidance in relation to illegal drugs, stolen items and electronic devices, and must therefore be followed.

Illegal Drugs and Stolen Items

These should be handed to the police unless there is a good reason not to. Staff must use their professional judgement and consider all relevant circumstances, including the value of the items seized. Where items are not handed to the police, they must be safely disposed of or (in the case of stolen items) may be returned to the owner. Where staff are unsure if substances are illegal drugs, they should be treated as such.

Electronic Devices

In the case of devices that:

  • are prohibited (or their use restricted) in the Behaviour Policy
  • are reasonably suspected to have been, or likely to be, used to commit an offence, cause personal injury to any person or cause damage to property
  • are used to disrupt teaching
  • breach the Behaviour Policy

then staff can examine any data on the device, and delete data found, where there is good reason to do so. Consent is not required from the pupil or their parents.

Where staff have reasonable grounds to suspect the device contains evidence of an offence, they must hand it over to the police without deleting any data (including child or extreme pornography).

Related Guidance and Other Considerations

Staff should be familiar with the DfE's advice Use of reasonable force before searching pupils. Schools should also consider whether staff should receive further training.

DfE statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) (and proposed new KCSIE guidance due to come into effect in September 2018 following recent consultation) covers the issue of sexting, and DfE advice Preventing and tackling bullying and Cyberbullying: Advice for headteachers and school staff cover the issue of cyber-bullying, both of which are forms of peer on peer abuse. The school's Child Protection Policy should set out how the school deals with peer on peer abuse.

Academies should keep in mind that, as exempt charities, they are required to report suspected crimes to the police. There may also be a requirement in some circumstances to make a Serious Incident Report to the ESFA.

Schools are required to publicise their Behaviour Policies to staff, pupils and parents at least once a year.

If you have any questions, please contact Yvonne Spencer or Jo Goddard in our Academies, MATs & Schools team on 0207 665 0870 or 020 7665 0805.

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