Schools promised powers to body-search pupils

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The Independent Online

Schools will be able to force pupils to undergo body searches if teachers believe they are carrying knives, under Government plans announced today.

Schools will be able to force pupils to undergo body searches if teachers believe they are carrying knives, under Government plans announced today.

Headteachers will be given the freedom to use metal detectors to search teenagers they suspect are hiding weapons, and call in the police to conduct snap searches in schools.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke said ministers were considering raising the minimum age for buying knives, which is currently set at 16.

And he stressed that every school must take its fair share of unruly pupils.

In a wide-ranging package of proposals, Mr Clarke said schools should adopt a "statement of expectations" setting out how badly-behaved pupils would be punished.

This statement would also contain a "zero tolerance" policy on bullying and verbal or physical abuse of staff, as well as rewards for good behaviour.

Speaking at the National College for School Leadership's conference for new heads in central London, Mr Clarke said: "Most pupils never carry knives, either in or out of school.

"But there are a few who ignore the fact that it is against the law to have a knife in school.

"This unacceptable, and no school should tolerate it.

He went on: "While standards of behaviour are generally good in the vast majority of schools, I fully back heads in tackling poor behaviour and enforcing discipline in the classroom.

"I expect head teachers to promote good behaviour in their schools, but where they judge it necessary, they have every right to exercise permanent exclusion," he said.

"However, when excluded children are deemed ready to be readmitted to a new school, it is important that heads do not have to take more than their fair share of challenging or excluded pupils, simply because they have places available.

"Head teachers face many tough challenges, and I want to ensure that every head has the means to tackle bad behaviour and raise standards in our schools."

The current rules mean teachers can only search pupils with their consent.

The Government's plans would mean head teachers could conduct body searches with or without consent if they suspected a pupil was carrying a weapon.

Airport-style walk-through metal detectors are thought less likely to be used than hand-held scanners when searching pupils.

One option would be for heads to search a pupil's jacket and trouser pockets using their hands to "pat" the student's clothes.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said it would be up to schools and the police to decide the best way to conduct searches.

"We are proposing new search powers for heads and police based on suspicion that there is a weapon somewhere in a school," he said.

"How these searches are conducted would be an operational decision for the police and the school."

Schools are not to be expected to take back pupils who have been expelled for carrying an offensive weapon or threatening staff or children.

The plan outlined today recommends local agreements for admissions, which would mean sharing out the most difficult pupils evenly between schools in an area.

This would "limit the number of excluded children that each school would have to admit".

Mr Clarke also said he wanted to reform the processes for investigating allegations pupils make against their teachers.

"I am very much aware of the devastating effect that false, or unfounded, allegations can have on a teacher's health, family, and career," he said.

"The length of time it takes to investigate an allegation and the surrounding publicity can make its impact so much more severe.

"I am committed to tackling those issues, rapidly, fairly and consistently to better protect teachers from false allegations while at the same time continuing to maintain effective protection for children."

He said he would set out plans in the New Year to make sure teachers are not put off taking children on school trips by fears they will get sued if anything goes wrong.

One major teaching union has been advising members to refuse to take school trips because of the growing "compensation culture".

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