Report on the Findings of the DfES Consultation on the draft guidance “Screening and Searching of Pupils for Weapons” which closed on 15 May 2007
We consulted on the draft guidance Screening and Searching of Pupils for Weapons because the new power to search, as set out in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, was coming into force on 31 May (by insertion in the Education Act 1996) and we wished to further ensure that the guidance, which already took account of the collective expertise of the Working Group on School Security, would reflect the concerns of school staff and others. We also sought views on the newly realised power to screen pupils for weapons using metal detection equipment. We had decided against making the guidance statutory; we wished school staff to have as much local discretion as possible when considering or implementing the new power to search.
We carried out the consultation by placing the draft guidance with a set of questions on the consultation pages of the DfES main website and by telling a range of potentially interested people about it. Towards the end of the 12 week formal consultation period we issued a gentle reminder to head teachers asking for responses in the next few days. We received, however, only a small number of responses (17), which we attribute to the guidance having been cleared beforehand by key bodies, though a handful of people also gave their views directly to the Pupil Well-being Health and Safety Unit outside the formal process.
Rather than give a summary of the responses to all the ten questions, we here give information about the main themes of the responses. We do this because most of the respondents had in common a small number of firmly put concerns. Firstly a number of people wished us to highlight rather more the risks of searching a pupil without consent and that the police should be called whenever a pupil showed potential or actual resistance to being searched. Linked to this was a strong call for more detail about the training which we recommended before a member of school staff could be authorised to search. Concerns were also expressed around what might constitute reasonable suspicion and that our cautionary words about sensitivities and not targeting particular groups in the pupil population could be strengthened. One or two respondents sought clarity for example on whether an employer could require a school to undertake searches, on whether penknives were within scope of the power to search, on insurance, on the need to wear protective clothing, on the wording of scripts for staff use. On all these and other points, major and minor, we have taken action by amending, subtracting from or adding to the guidance text. With one point made by one respondent, that teachers should not be expected to conduct a search, we were unable to agree, though we had already amended the Bill to protect most staff from being directed to search. One or two bodies, in responding, opposed the legislation in principle.
The Department is grateful for the detail and care of the responses which helped us to improve the guidance so that Ministers could approve it for release on the commencement date of 31 May. Because schools are safe places we think most schools will not choose to use the power to search, but we are pleased that a minority of schools are now in a position legally to search without consent when they suspect a knife has been brought in, and that the guidance will help them deal safely with the situation on the basis of better information. We think that rather more schools will use the screening facility and that establishing grounds for suspicion in this way will help them decide whether to search or to call the police at once.
The guidance is available below on this webpage.
If your enquiry is related to the policy content of the consultation you can contact Martin Elliott at 1G6, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3BT
Telephone: 020 7925 5886