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Body search plan to fight knife crime in schools

Government U-turn over security signals attempt to get tough on teenagers who carry weapons

Parents will be told that they must allow their children to be searched at any time within school premises if they want to get them into the schools of their choice, under new plans to rid Britain's classrooms of the scourge of knives.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, will put the battle against illegal weapons at the top of her agenda when she unveils her Tackling Violence Action Plan tomorrow. The blueprint for tackling knife-related violence will include a radical move to give police hundreds of metal detectors to catch young people carrying hidden weapons in schools, clubs and pubs.

The proposal to introduce "airport-style" security, particularly in schools identified as facing the greatest danger from the knife-crime epidemic, represents a remarkable U-turn for the Government, which had previously dismissed the idea as an overreaction.

But the proposals will also shift more responsibility on to parents, with a plan to make them sign up to tougher scanning and searching policies as a condition of entry when their children first apply for a school place.

Schools and colleges can make consent to searches at their gates a condition of enrolment for pupils aged above 16 under laws enabling searches on suspicion, which came into force last year. But the Government wants to extend this to all pupils.

"We would prefer schools to make their own arrangements to support these new proposals, but ultimately any school has a statutory power to make reasonable rules a condition of admission," said a source at the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

An internal document obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveals that the Government was fiercely against the move barely three years ago. The briefing answered the issue of "body and bag scans at school gates" with the declaration: "We are a long way from needing anything remotely like this."

However, the official line has changed as the cult of the knife has grown among British youngsters. The IoS revealed last month that the number of teenagers under 18 who were convicted of carrying knives more than doubled from 482 in 1997 to 1,256 in 2006.

It has now emerged that the number of people sentenced for having an article with a blade or point on school premises has risen from just 12 in 1996 to 45 in 2005 – peaking at 106 in 2004.

Ms Smith has agreed to the use of "arch" scanners, which beep when they detect a metal implement, as a compromise that will enable closer scrutiny of pupils without giving the police increased powers to enter schools and carry out random searches at will.

The Home Office will fund 100 new arches and 400 "wand" scanners, which are waved around people and poked into their bags. The portable units will also be sited at other places where young people congregate.