Schools have a number of powers with regard to the searching of pupils, as outlined in the Department for Education’s ‘searching, screening and confiscation at school’ guidance.
This guidance covers a number of important areas, including powers to search without consent, prohibited items school can search for, and the powers to confiscate items found during searches.
The guidance is currently being updated by the DfE following recommendations from the safeguarding review of the ‘Child Q’ case, which is summarised below.
The NASUWT is engaging with the DfE on this matter and will update this advice once the DfE’s revised guidance has been published. The Union’s priority will remain focused on representing our members’ best interests and those of the children and young people they teach.
The high-profile case of ‘Child Q’, a black teenage girl who was strip-searched by police at school, has understandably caused a great deal of anger. The police search was conducted on the pupil, who was 15 years old at the time of the incident, after the school made contact with the police as they believed she had drugs in her possession.
A local Child Safeguarding Practice Review of the incident (pdf) found ‘there was no reasonable justification’ for the strip search to have taken place. Its investigation into the events of the day found that many processes were not followed appropriately by the attending police officers and no appropriate adult was present during the search.
It has been accepted that the strip search of Child Q should not have happened and the Metropolitan Police have issued an apology.
As well as the recommendation for the DfE to revise its guidance, the safeguarding review also made recommendations for stronger guidance for police officers that emphasises the need for appropriate adults in strip searches of children and the importance of their safeguarding needs.
School staff were found to have acted in line with the powers set out by the DfE’s guidance when undertaking their first search of Child Q, which was not a strip search. However, the review was concerned that staff ‘deferred to the authority of the police’ instead of seeking to understand what actions the officers intended to take and challenging this decision.
The NASUWT has recommended that this issue of professional challenge, and the safeguarding elements of searching, are two important areas that the revised guidance should address.
The Union will update members accordingly when the updated guidance is published.
The importance of effective discipline and behaviour management in schools
The NASUWT affirms that all schools should establish behaviour policies and strategies, including rewards and sanctions. These should always be developed in conjunction with staff and school workforce unions to promote acceptable standards of behaviour.
The primary purpose of the behaviour policy and procedures should be to create and maintain a learning environment where all pupils and staff are treated with respect and dignity at all times. It should enable all pupils to achieve and succeed and allow all teachers to teach effectively.
The behaviour policy should be updated and reviewed regularly and schools should ensure that staff, pupils, and parents/carers know and understand the requirements set out in any policy and related procedures, including their respective roles, responsibilities and obligations under the policy.
With regard to searching, schools should make clear in their behaviour policy, and in communication to parent and pupils, what items are prohibited on school premises and include a list of prohibited items.
If a member of staff suspects a pupil has a banned or prohibited item in their possession, this may constitute grounds to conduct a search, carried out in accordance with the powers outlined in the DfE’s guidance.
Schools should recognise that where behaviour gives rise to concerns about a pupil’s safety and wellbeing, such concerns should be addressed with due regard to the obligations placed on schools in relation to safeguarding and child protection.
The review in the Child Q case highlighted this as a key concern and made reference to the importance of schools having regard to the DfE’s statutory safeguarding guidance, Keeping children safe, in their behaviour management policy and practice.
The importance of parental engagement with school behaviour policies
The NASUWT holds the view that parents should be encouraged to have an understanding of the school’s behaviour policy and take part in the life of the school.
The Union believes that for a behaviour policy to be truly effective, the whole school community must be involved in its development, including parents. Those who are not directly involved in the creation of the policy should be encouraged to have an understanding of it and provide feedback as part of regular reviews.
Schools should, as part of their statutory obligations under the Equality Act 2010, also ensure that the behaviour policy and procedures operate with due regard to the need to advance equality, eliminate discrimination and promote good relations between persons with protected characteristics.
The NASUWT has insights from schools where behaviour policies have, and have not, been successful in supporting pupils and driving positive change.
Where there has been a positive impact, the common factor is that the behaviour policy has been developed in collaboration across the school community, rather than through a top-down approach in which expectations and requirements are imposed on the wider school community.
It is the NASUWT’s experience that the development of behaviour policy and practice on this basis enhances levels of staff, pupil and parental commitment to securing and maintaining good discipline.
In situations where a whole-school approach has been taken that includes the wider school community, parents report a sense of ownership and a feeling that their views have been listened to, which leads to a greater commitment to ensuring the success of the policy.
The importance of policing in securing community safety and in protecting children from grooming and other forms of exploitation and criminalisation
The NASUWT is concerned that the police acted inappropriately in the case of Child Q and that the independent review found that racism was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search.
The NASUWT affirms that prejudice, discrimination or harassment on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or belief are not acceptable and deny people their fundamental human rights, limit opportunity for everyone and undermine the cohesion of communities and of wider society.
The Union recognises that the police can play an important role in supporting the work of schools, building good community relations and in assisting schools’ efforts to promote positive and secure environments for the benefit of pupils and staff.
The police also have an important role to play by working in partnership with schools and other services for children and families to protect children and young people from grooming, exploitation and criminalisation.
The NASUWT supports the principles of multi-agency working. Teachers and school leaders must be supported and empowered to act in the interests of pupils and to challenge the views or practices of other organisations, including the police.
The need for schools to demonstrate that their policies are compliant with the Equality Act and meet the public sector equality duty
Schools must ensure that their behaviour management policies are non-discriminatory in their scope and operation, including on the grounds of ethnic or national origin, culture, religion, gender, disability or sexuality.
The behaviour policy should not discriminate against pupils on the basis of any protected characteristic and it should also contribute to advancing equality.
The behaviour policy should make reference to special educational needs/additional learning needs/additional support needs and inclusion, staffing and staff development, safeguarding, equality, anti-bullying, physical intervention and relevant statutory guidance and government circulars.
The policy should comply with equalities legislation and the school’s duty to promote community cohesion.
The behaviour policy should protect both pupils and staff. Schools should monitor incidents to ensure that pupils and/or staff who share a protected characteristic are not experiencing particular difficulties or treated less favourably.
Schools should collect and regularly review data on behaviour to ensure that their behaviour management policy is operating fairly and equitably and take action to address concerns where they are identified.
Further advice and guidance on behaviour management can be found and accessed through the NASUWT’s main Behaviour Management page.
If you have a concern about the way in which behaviour is being managed in your school, you should seek advice and support from the NASUWT immediately.
If you require specific advice from us, please use the details on our Contact Us page.
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