Am I allowed to search pupils at my school?
There may be some situations where you might have to search a pupil due to safety concerns. The Department for Education (DfE) has issued powers to schools which allows school staff to search pupils with or without their consent. The powers also include confiscating and seizing items during a search.
This article outlines the circumstance in which you can conduct a search, which items are prohibited, and what happens if you are alleged of any wrongdoing.
Searching pupils when they have offered consent
School staff can search pupils with their consent for any item. Schools are not required to have formal written consent from the pupils for this sort of search. It is enough for the teacher to ask the pupil to turn out his or her pockets or if they can look in the pupil’s bag or locker and for the pupil to agree.
If you suspect a pupil has a banned item in his or her possession, you can instruct the pupil to turn out their pockets or bag.
Searching pupils when they have not offered their consent
You have the statutory power to search pupils or their possessions, without consent, where you have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the pupil may have a prohibited item. You are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ to search for the following prohibited items:
- Knives and weapons
- Illegal drugs
- Stolen items
- Tobacco and cigarette papers
- Pornographic images
- Any item that has been or is likely to be used to commit an offence, cause personal injury or damage to property
Another article on Edapt outlines what constitutes as “reasonable force” in schools.
You can only undertake a search without consent if you have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a pupil may have in his or her possession a prohibited item. You must decide in each particular case what constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion.
For example, you may have heard other pupils talking about the item or you might have noticed a pupil behaving in a way that causes them to be suspicious. You are allowed to view CCTV footage in order to make a decision as to whether to conduct a search for an item.
Can I refuse to conduct a search?
Yes. A headteacher cannot require a member of staff to conduct a search. In order to conduct a search without consent, you must be authorised to do so. Staff can choose whether they want to be authorised, or not.
Confiscating electronic devices
When conducting a search you might find an electronic device such as a mobile phone or tablet, you are allowed to examine and delete any data or files on the device if you think there is a good reason to do so. In determining ‘good reason’, you must suspect the data or file can be used to harm, disrupt learning or break the school rules.
If inappropriate material is found on the device it is up to you whether to delete the material, retain it as evidence or whether the material is of such seriousness that it requires the involvement of the police.
What happens if the pupil does not have anything prohibited on them?
The powers allow school staff to search, regardless of whether the pupil is found after the search to have something prohibited. This includes circumstances where staff suspect a pupil of having items such as illegal drugs or stolen property which are later found not to be illegal or stolen.
What happens if I am alleged of wrongdoing?
Headteachers and authorised school staff have a specific statutory power to search pupils without consent for specific items, knives/weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen items.
As long as the member of staff acts within the limits of this specific power, as outlined above, they will have a robust defence against a legal challenge. You can contact us if you have been alleged of any wrongdoing when conducting a search at your school.
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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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