Searching and restraining pupils


Concerns over cyber bullying, pupils carrying weapons and pupil behaviour in and out of school have prompted the government to give teachers additional freedom under the Education Act 2011 to search and restrain pupils.

Teachers may search pupils for items they suspect may have been used to commit an offence or personal injury or for items prohibited by the school. This includes an electronic device, and the data on it – such as a mobile phone that has been used for cyber bullying.  

Teachers may have concerns, however, over conducting searches or restraining pupils, in case they open themselves up to allegations of harassment, or put themselves in dangerous situations. It is important they feel knowledgeable about their school’s behaviour policies and supported in carrying them out. 

The legal picture

The Education Act 2011 - Section 2: 'Power of members of staff at schools to search pupils' outlines a new set of regulations for teachers.

A range of other legislation aims to regulate the way teachers can search and restrain pupils:

  • Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced a statutory right for school staff to use such force as is reasonable to prevent a pupil from committing an offence or causing injury to themselves or others, wherever the pupil is in the lawful charge of the school staff member – at school or on school trips. The DfE have issued non-statutory guidance on the ‘Use of reasonable force’ to support this legislation
  • The Children Act 1989 is the basis for the current child protection system
  • The Schools (Specification and Disposal of Articles) Regulations 2012
  • The School Behaviour (Determination and Publicising of Measures in Academies) Regulations 2012
  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

It is always unlawful to use force as a form of punishment.

The process

In maintained schools, governing bodies have been asked to establish a set of principals as guidance for the head teacher to underpin new behaviour policies incorporating the rights of teachers regarding the searching and restraint of pupils. Governing bodies have been advised to consult with teachers and parents during the process of establishing these principals, and the behaviour policy should be shared with teachers and pupils.


If you have concerns about your school’s new behaviour policies or would like advice about searching pupils, edapt can offer legal information. 

Next steps

Sign up to edapt services for a wealth of HR advice at your fingertips. Once you’ve signed up, simply pick up the phone, email or contact us through live internet chat for answers to any questions about searching or restraining pupils. For more information about our services, click here: For teachers.