Teachers given powers to search pupils for drugs
(DAILY MAIL) Teachers have gained new powers to search pupils for drugs, alcohol and stolen goods, it has been revealed.
They will gain the legal right to frisk pupils and search school bags without consent in a fresh crackdown on bad behaviour.
The move extends the existing right of teachers to look for weapons and is enshrined in new legislation.
It is designed to stamp out a culture of drug-taking and underage drinking that is developing in schools.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls said the powers would ensure all pupils knew that a ‘teacher’s authority in the classroom is unquestionable’.
But teaching leaders warned that staff could face false allegations of assault from pupils as a result. It will also increase the responsibilities of teachers.
Schools can already look for weapons by removing children’s jackets and jumpers and ‘patting down’ their clothing. They can also screen them using the sort of metal detectors seen at airports.
But while they can ask pupils suspected of possessing drugs to turn out their pockets and open their bags, only police can frisk for drugs or other items.
Staff must call their local police if they believe a search is warranted.
Mr Balls said: ‘Low level behavioural problems can sometimes be a forerunner to more serious issues and I want to help schools step in early to prevent problems further down the line.
‘We need to ensure schools have the powers and support they need to maintain good behaviour and to stop problems in the wider community, such as drugs and alcohol use, entering the school grounds.’
The new powers are set out in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 which gained Royal Assent on Thursday night.
The Government plans to issue new guidance to schools in the next few weeks about how the new powers will be implemented.
Teachers were yesterday divided over the legal rights, which come into force in September 2010.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘I welcome the extension of teachers’ rights to search but it is not without its problems.
‘We know classroom teachers face false allegations of assault from pupils and searches mean they can be put in a vulnerable situation. Teachers need the training to enable them to exercise this right properly.’
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, claimed the powers do not go far enough because they do not support teachers’ judgements.
He said: ‘If a teacher felt that a student posed imminent harm to himself or herself or others, they should be allowed to search. But that has to be the teacher’s judgement.
‘The idea that you can only search for drugs, alcohol and stolen goods, from the other things that a kid might be hiding is ridiculous.
‘The examples we have used are if a child has got hold of legal drugs but have a lot of them, such as a large packet of paracetamol or if they have pornography.’
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We welcome this and think it will make it easier to solve discipline issues in schools.
‘There will be guidance coming out that will make sure that headteachers how to do it in a way that’s within the law.’
The Act also requires schools to record and report ‘significant incidents’ in which staff have used force to restrain a pupil.
Surveys show that growing numbers of pupils are turning up to lessons drunk or hungover.
New Government guidance stresses the need for primary schools to begin alcohol education ‘before young people start experimenting’.