School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance.


12:06 pm - April 30th 2010

by Unity    


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I believe that I’m about to make a bit of nuisance of myself for reasons that I’m happy to share with you even if it means disclosing a bit of personal information along the way.

I’ve got two kids, the oldest of which turns 18 in a couple of months. He currently attends the 6th form of a local state school, where he’s currently studying for 3 A Levels.

This morning, I received a letter from the school, produced jointly with the local Plods, that, after a bit of boiler plate waffle about the government’s Tackling Knives Action Plan and why knive are serious issue, dropped out the following bombshell:

West Midlands Police continue to support our educational establishments and we will be conducting random anti-knife searches at undisclosed times in partnership with [name of school]. I would like to stress that there are no reported issues regarding knives within the [school], but like us, the [school] feels that young people need to be aware of the potential dangers of carrying a knife.

In order to implement this incentive (sic) it is my duty to inform parents/guardian’s (sic) that during summer term West Midlands Police and [name of school] will be implementing random searches with students as a condition of entry into the building in accordance with current legislation.

Aside from noting the typically abysmal grammar – a grocers’ apostrophe and the desciption of random body searches as an ‘incentive’ rather than an ‘initiative’ – it seems the one of the major  dangers here is that of having your civil liberties infringed on the basis of a bullshit argument that fundamentally misrepresents the legal authority of the Police and, especially, the school and its Headteacher.

So far, I’ve shot a quick email off to the school asking them to clarify exactly which piece of legislation they’re attempting to rely on here, but only because I want to make them squirm before delivering the coup de grace. I’ve already done my research here and unless the local Plods are planning to designate the school under the infamous section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – and trust me, you’ll be the first to know if they try that crap on – then the relevant legislation here is section 242 of the Apprencticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which amends the Education Act 1996 as follows:

242 Power of members of staff to search pupils for prohibited items: England

(1) After section 550A of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) insert—

“Powers to search pupils

550ZA Power of members of staff to search pupils for prohibited items: England

(1) This section applies where a member of staff of a school in England—

(a) has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a pupil at the school may have a prohibited item with him or her or in his or her possessions; and

(b) falls within section 550ZB(1).

For the sake of completeness Section 500ZB(1) simply delinaeates which members of staff have the legal power to carry out a search, which is either the Headteacher or someone acting on the Head’s authority all of which is fairly irrelevant. What does matter here are the words ‘has reasonable grounds for suspecting’, which clearly indicate that the powers granted to Headteachers by the extent do not extend to authorising random body searches on students.

That being the case, and unless something snuck through the wash-up to alter this situation, this new initiative is going to happen. Not only does it constitute a breach of civil liberties and, of course, HRA/ECHR but the Headteacher’s decision to implement random body searches is clearly ultra vires and vastly exceeds the legal powers granted to him in primary legislation.

As the name of the school, that I’ll withhold for the moment; I don’t want to completely blow a story that I can easily place with the local press and, to be scrupulously fair, I want to give the school a chance to back down of its own accord before deploying the heavy artillery

In the mean time, I’ll be advising my son not to submit to a body search and to pass the information that the school does not have the right to conduct random searches on to his friends and schoolmates…

…because that’s what I consider to be citizenship education.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Education

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Reader comments


A story that fills me with pride. I hope your son follows your advice.

2. Malcolm Armsteen

Be a pain, why don’t you…

Your son is fortunate to have such a well informed and combatative mother. It will be interesting to hear their response.

And your alternative suggestion is what?

The alternative is taking appropriate and proportionate action on the basis of reasonable suspicion, based on some evidence.

And your alternative suggestion is what?

Well, for starters, that the Police and School should demonstrate that they have reasonable grounds for concern to a court of law.

Frankly, one of worst abuses of due process and civil liberties over the last 13 years has been the number of instances in which legislation has devolved the power to authorise the use of intrusive search and surveillance powers to the Police and other public authorities without the requirement that they first demonstrate to a court that that they have reasonable grounds for their proposed action and obtain a warrant.

That requirement, alone, would serve to curb many of the worst excesses of the surveillance state.

In order to implement this incentive…

You and your son have my full support, Unity, and I hope I’m not trivialising the issue by saying…Dear God, I hope this wasn’t an english teacher.

The alternative is taking appropriate and proportionate action on the basis of reasonable suspicion, based on some evidence.

Quite!

Dear God, I hope this wasn’t an english teacher.

Bigot!

You can see where the Head’s coming from – it’s hard to climb back up the league tables when the entire chess team’s been knifed.

Re: 7

‘English’ should be capitalised. Hurr!

You can see where the Head’s coming from – it’s hard to climb back up the league tables when the entire chess team’s been knifed.

Really?

The letter from the school says:

I would like to stress that there are no reported issues regarding knives within the [school], but like us, the [school] feels that young people need to be aware of the potential dangers of carrying a knife.

There is no evidence that knife crime is a problem within the school so this ‘incentive’ is an simply an exercise in submission to the state – no more, no less – and is unnecessary.

earwicga, I think Gwyn was joking.

Ah! I am obviously having a humourless day!

14. Flowerpower

a grocers’ apostrophe

Priceless.

Hah! A Freudian slap, I assure you.

@14

You sound like a Mastercard advert… perhaps it was an ironic apostrophe? 😉

Having worked in schools, I still maintain that the best headteachers are those who are concerned by the standard of English in official communications. I may now have to check to see if there is a correlation between this and understanding what they are allowed to do by law.

Of course, I can’t help but wonder if in fact they know who they want to target and are using ‘random’ as a screen so as not to appear discriminatory…

@17

If they know who they want to target, they should grow some balls and do something about it…! Just a suggestion, but gathering some actual evidence might be a good place to start? The “reasonable suspicion” words in the act are there for a reason.

I’m not sure the “let’s target everyone to avoid looking discriminatory” line is sustainable. It would be interesting to see the school try to avoid claims they had assaulted one of their pupils by enforcing such a random search without any reasonable suspicion that the individual was carrying a knife.

Flowerpower:

Dear oh dear – are you not aware that you can use both the singular and the plural when referring to the grocer’s/grocers’ apostrophe, so both are equally correct.

Lynne Truss… is that you? 😉

21. Flowerpower

Unity @ 19

Only when you know what you’re doing at the time and not employing an ex post facto justification.

Unity, well done. Schools’ contempt for civil liberties is amazing. I had a huge fight to stop my children being fingerprinted at the age of twelve and the children were subject to tremendous pressure (they’re very susceptible to the “well no-one else’s parents have complained” approach at that age).

Surely any police officer who conducts an illegal search by misrepresenting the law to a young person is guilty of assault?

Keep it up.

I see from the just acquittal of that harrassed teacher in Nottinghamshire on charges of attempted murder for hitting a persistently dispruptive pupil with a dumbell that the previous public debate on restoring corporal punishment in schools has progressed to one for introducing capital punishment to deter habitual offenders. Life follows art, it seems, to judge from this Rowan Atkinson sketch:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBeguUvuDzs

@22 Chris

Perhaps they should just have done and DNA fingerprint the lot of ’em. Can’t be too careful with these stoodent types… slippery bunch at the best of times. Course, it would take the Tories to go all Big Brother on us, introduce ID cards and lots of illiberal legislation eroding our civil liberties.

Oh..wait a minute….

As the character V says, people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of the people. I hope Brown and Cameron both choke on the sentiment for treating the electorate with such contempt.

25. Flowerpower

What about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Section 60?

@25

s60 CJPOA 1994 requires a senior Plod (superintendent or higher) to have a reasonable belief that an incident involving serious violence may take place in order to authorise a stop and search operation.

Again, there must be specific grounds for activating these powers. They cannot simply be deployed at random as part of a generic government initiative.

Unity,

Is not the problem that in some schools it might well be a reasonable belief that some pupils are carrying knives then?

Although Birmingham does not have a big knife problem that I’ve noticed.

Galen10,

I know the principle, but I have worked with headteachers who get so paranoid about discrimination they forget their function is to ensure education…

@27

Contrary to tabloid belief, the mere fact that you believe that some pupils may have knives in their possession does not automatically warrant the belief that serious violence may ensue.

Reasonable belief and what you read in the newspapers are, in my experience, anything but synonymous.

Watchman: without existing evidence of a significant knife crime problem at this specific school there is no reasonable grounds for random searches. The letter states that there is zero knife crime on record at the school. This ‘incentive’ therefore becomes a) an illegal program and b) a blatant, shameless fishing expedition.

30. George W Potter

Unity, well bloody done! 🙂

How the government messed the law up so badly that they did not grant police the right to search all school pupils entering a school is beyond me.

See what happens when you try to pass three statutes a week?

Anyway, well done for the resistance. You’ll be a libertarian yet.

32. Liberal Cop

A well written piece however, you should not view different acts and sections in isolation.

The phrase “catch 22” springs to mind.

The notice from the school clearly states:

“West Midlands Police and [name of school] will be implementing random searches with students as a condition of entry into the building in accordance with current legislation.”

The search is a condition of entry imposed by the school. It is the same as the searches that you must submit to in order to be allowed entry to football grounds or to nightclubs. It is not subject to any power. A person will either subject themsleves to a voluntary search or be refused entry. If a person refuses to submit to a voluntary search and tries to gain entry, or even walk away, this may give a police officer under section 1 of PACE 1984 or a teacher under section 242 ASCLA 2009 the reasonable grounds required under the acts to perform a search. The rationale being, that by refusing to submit to the search, the person may have something to hide and that by knowing the purpose of the voluntary search, that something may be a knife, blade or pointed article.

I hate bad grammar and spelling too.

Regards,

LC

Well, I wouldn’t start calling the press just yet…

I think what they’ll almost certainly be doing here initially is screening – e.g. with a hand-held metal detecting wand – rather than searching. If a pupil refuses to submit to screening the school can/will refuse entry, and if they set off the wand then the police will take that as reasonable suspicion for a search (under section 550AA of the Education Act 1996, which is specifically about knives/weapons – rather than s550ZA).

There’s been DCSF guidance on it for several years, and I expect that the school will be following it – http://tinyurl.com/3yg4erv

It’s much the same as the idea with drug dogs, I think – the dog sniffing around you is not regarded, by the police at least (and nobody’s successfully challenged that view), as a search, but if the dog indicates it gives the reasonable suspicion to search…

There’s plenty of reasons not to like it, but it’s almost certainly lawful, so unless you’re willing to take on DCSF’s and the police’s view of screening and searching powers i don’t think it’s smart to be advising your son and his friends not to co-operate…

i don’t think it’s smart to be advising your son and his friends not to co-operate…

Yes you’re right, of course, let’s set an example to the children.

Let’s explain to them that the state is all powerful, that government is the wielder of that power and that the police are the visible enforcers of their rule.

When the government passes a law that impinges on our individual freedoms, let’s explain to our children that the proper response is supine acceptance.

And when the police act outwith their powers, let’s teach our children to obey them as it will, no doubt, be in their best interests to do so.

Yes you’re right. Let’s teach our children docility and, in time, they will all get to live in a brave new world.

That is totally disgusting.

They freely admit that there are no problems with knives in that school.

If they want to teach kids about knife culture, they should invite a victim along to talk about how it feels to be stabbed.

Totally fascist and dangerous thinking these days.

A person will either subject themsleves to a voluntary search or be refused entry. If a person refuses to submit to a voluntary search and tries to gain entry, or even walk away, this may give a police officer under section 1 of PACE 1984 or a teacher under section 242 ASCLA 2009 the reasonable grounds required under the acts to perform a search. The rationale being, that by refusing to submit to the search, the person may have something to hide and that by knowing the purpose of the voluntary search, that something may be a knife, blade or pointed article.

Given that there “there are no reported issues regarding knives within the [school]”, I’m struggling to comprehend why refusal to be searched on entering the school is ground for reasonable suspicion that the student may be carrying a knife.

37. Just Visiting

Unity, although your school has no knife problems in seems – I wonder what your view would have been if you child’s school had historic knife problems?

The understanding of the law would be the same – but I’m wondering if it had been me, whether random knife searches would not actually have given me confidence that the school was trying to address it’s problems: the end result of which would be to the advantage of my child?

38. just wondering

If you refuse to be searched and they don’t let you in, are you then truanting? What are they going to do when they round you up as a truant? Force you back in through the search barriers? And then you refuse again? Or are you then an authorised absentee? Interesting!
@Pagar I share your sentiments!

Let’s teach our children docility and, in time, they will all get to live in a brave new world.

Last year I walked toward the supermarket near my office after I had finished for the day. There was a metal arch and a long queue of people (I’d say a double-decker bus load) waiting to go through it. I was lost in thought and didn’t realise the arch and queue were there until I had almost passed them. I asked a nearby police officer what it was and if I was required to go through it. He replied that it was to search for knives and no, I wasn’t required to go through it. I went on my way to the supermarket.

40. Liberal Cop

ukliberty,

That there are “no reported issues” regarding knives in the school is not a consideration.

It is solely the avoidance of a voluntary search that may provide the reasonable suspicion. You may not see this as meeting the required threshold. A police officer or teacher may think differently. Ultimately it is the court that will decide whether a suspicion was reasonably held.

I’m afraid cannot cite any caselaw, but I would be surprised if this, or a similar scenario had not already been tested in court.

Regards,

LC

Suppose we substitute “guns” for knives in this debate because of earlier concerns, just a few years back, about shootings and the ease with which handguns could be obtained:

“Two teenage girls who were shot dead outside a New Year party in a hairdresser’s salon were today named by police as a senior officer warned of a growing gun culture. Charlene Ellis, 18, and Latisha Shakespear, 17, both died at the scene outside Uniseven Studios in Aston, Birmingham, early yesterday after being hit by a hail of up to 30 bullets from what is believed to have been an automatic weapon.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/jan/03/ukguns.markoliver

Are we really saying that it is an outrageous intrusion into personal liberty for schools and the police to take measures to stop school students from carrying guns into schools or into clubs?

LC,

interesting view of ‘voluntary’; i.e. you are free to choose to have your privacy violated or not, but if you choose not to, this will be viewed as grounds for suspicion. Why even pretend it’s voluntary?

Bob B,

Are we really saying that it is an outrageous intrusion into personal liberty for schools and the police to take measures to stop school students from carrying guns into schools or into clubs?

There is a by now well established principle that an infringement on freedom must be necessary and proportionate. I fail to see, if there are no problems with knives in a school, how an infringement on a student’s freedom, a de facto obligatory search for knives, is necessary, let alone proportionate.

…and if there is a problem with weapons in the school, that surely is grounds for the use of s60.

Liberal Cop, it troubles me somewhat that exercising one’s freedoms and asserting one’s rights are grounds for them being infringed but sadly this does seem to be an attitude far too prevalent in the police service – as protestors stopped and searched at Kingsnorth Climate Camp and the DSEI arms fair, among others, have discovered to their cost.

46. the a&e charge nurse

[43] yes, proportionality should be at the heart of such decisions – it sounds in this particular case as if there is simply no basis for such dramatic measures?
On the other hand schools have an obligation to pursue all reasonable means to protect students and staff alike?

If there was a history of serious incidents (involving weapons) then there MIGHT be a case for a metal scanner, amongst a range of other interventions, a scenario that has arisen in certain American schools as I understand it?

Freedom shouldn’t mean the freedom to walk into the classroom and stab somebody unencumbered by any any form of restraint.
It goes without saying that a disproportionate number of violent incidents tend to involve children from a disadvantaged background – so as well as protecting potential victims a modest form of infringement (to personal liberty) might protect a prospective perpetrator as well?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7777635.stm

@43: “I fail to see, if there are no problems with knives in a school, how an infringement on a student’s freedom, a de facto obligatory search for knives, is necessary, let alone proportionate.”

As events show, it’s challenging to foresee when a stabbing or shooting might occur and surely the inalienable right not to be stabbed or shot at school, or in its immediate vicinity, is at least as important as the supposedly inalienable right not to be searched for weapons on entering school.

“Two pupils from Stowe boarding school have been bailed by police following a knife attack in which a fellow student received a minor cut to his arm.

“The 17-year-old boy was cut with a craft knife in a fight at around midnight yesterday in one of the boarding houses at the Buckinghamshire school.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/may/03/pupils-bailed-stowe-school-knife

A&E,

[43] yes, proportionality should be at the heart of such decisions – it sounds in this particular case as if there is simply no basis for such dramatic measures?

The first test is necessity, the second is proportionality. It seems to me, given the content of the letter, that the searches at this particular school do not pass the first test.

On the other hand schools have an obligation to pursue all reasonable means to protect students and staff alike?

If there was a history of serious incidents (involving weapons) then there MIGHT be a case for a metal scanner, amongst a range of other interventions, a scenario that has arisen in certain American schools as I understand it?

Of course there is a case for such things in such circumstances.

Freedom shouldn’t mean the freedom to walk into the classroom and stab somebody unencumbered by any any form of restraint.

The nature of freedom means we run the risk of something unpleasant happening every second of every day. You could walk into a shop right now and kill someone, possibly a few people. Should you be searched prior to entering every shop? Or any building? On leaving your house? Of course not. The very notion is absurd.

If there is a knife problem then of course steps must be taken to mitigate it. If there is no problem then why infringe freedom (not to mention our finite resources)?

This all seems very obvious to me. As I say, I’m struggling to comprehend why anyone would think otherwise.

Bob B,

As events show, it’s challenging to foresee when a stabbing or shooting might occur and surely the inalienable right not to be stabbed or shot at school, or in its immediate vicinity, is at least as important as the supposedly inalienable right not to be searched for weapons on entering school.

You’re the first person in the thread to mention inalienable rights. I neither claimed or implied they had an inalienable right not to be searched.

“Two pupils from Stowe boarding school have been bailed by police following a knife attack in which a fellow student received a minor cut to his arm.

“The 17-year-old boy was cut with a craft knife in a fight at around midnight yesterday in one of the boarding houses at the Buckinghamshire school.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/may/03/pupils-bailed-stowe-school-knife

Yes, and some 7 million other pupils weren’t cut or stabbed or shot.

50. the a&e charge nurse

[48] “If there is a knife problem then of course steps must be taken to mitigate it” – that’s the piece of the jigsaw that is missing?

Are the Brummie teachers so taken with the “Tackling Knives Action Plan” that American-style security measures are now deemed necessary for any school in their part of the world?
http://www.crimereduction.homeoffice.gov.uk/youth/youth087a.pdf

Where is the evidence to support this type of intervention and has anybody identified/quantified the anticipated outcomes so as to measure the efficacy (or otherwise) of such a controversial approach?

51. Charlieman

Unity, OP: “I would like to stress that there are no reported issues regarding knives within the [school], but like us, the [school] feels that young people need to be aware of the potential dangers of carrying a knife.”

I hate being a member of the language police, but… An “issue” commonly emerges from the loins of a woman or from a printing press. It is also used in a lazy fashion to define a topical debate or a consequence, but there is usually a much better word to use than “issue”. The ugliest and utterly inappropriate usage is as a synonym for “problem”.

The etymology isn’t great, but “issue” is about “flowing” or “continuity”. “Issue” does not mean bug, problem or foul-up, and given our generous vocabulary, there is no need to change its meaning.

I can’t translate “no reported issues regarding knives” into normal English. The expression could equally mean “no children ever carried knives” or “children did not carry knives every day”.


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    School plans to conduct random body searches at undisclosed times http://bit.ly/caaeen

  52. thabet

    RT @PoliceStateUK: West Midlands #school tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance http://sn.im/vw85l #surveillance

  53. terry

    RT @policestateuk: West Midlands #school tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance http://sn.im/vw85l #surveillance

  54. Carole

    RT @Shepy: RT @G_Rak / @unpersons: School plans to conduct random body searches at undisclosed times http://bit.ly/caaeen

  55. alex knorr

    RT @PoliceStateUK: West Midlands #school tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance http://sn.im/vw85l #surveillance

  56. JM Cerqueira Esteves

    RT @LossofPrivacy RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  57. Loss of Privacy

    RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  58. temaris

    You sort of hope that it's a US school, but no, no it isn't, it's a UK school deciding to abrogate pupils' civil rights http://bit.ly/b6JgXh

  59. JuliaM

    RT @libcon: School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/d92zaM Appalling, but is anyone surprised?

  60. Old Holborn

    RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  61. Vanessa Morriss

    RT @AmbushPredator: RT @libcon: School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/d92zaM Appalling, but is anyone surprised?

  62. Anna Martin

    RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  63. Elaine Kirk

    RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  64. Richard Taylor

    Children are easy targets for the oppressive state. Society needs to take more interest in what goes on in schools. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  65. Henry-Porter.com

    RT @ChartersAndCo: One to watch: RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  66. No Longer Free

    RT @OldHoborn School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8
    <<conditioning for later life

  67. Joe Foster

    RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  68. Su Rogers

    School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance http://bit.ly/bih8r3 // State of the nation! #labourlost #labourout

  69. Su Rogers

    RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  70. the credo

    RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  71. Charters & Co

    One to watch: RT @OldHoborn: RT @libcon School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/cqm4S8

  72. Edward Labarge

    RT @privacyint: RT @libertyuk: RT @libcon: School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/d92zaM

  73. Jules Mattsson

    RT @copwatcher: RT @libcon: School tells students to leave their civil liberties at the entrance. http://bit.ly/d92zaM





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