The Education Bill, which started its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday, could possibly fall foul of human rights laws due to some rather intrusive measures. Currently school staff in England are only able to search a pupil if they believe they have a ‘prohibited item’ on their person or in their belongings. These can include weapons, alcohol or drugs.
But in a controversial move the Education Bill will extend this to “any…items which the school rules identify as an item for which a search may be made.” Without any specified items in the bill, this could theoretically include anything. The bill even allows teachers to view the messages and photos on the mobile phones of children, in an effort to crack down on bullying and cyber-bullying.
In addition, a shortage of male teachers in primary schools has led to new measures to allow teachers to search pupils of the opposite sex, although only when they believe there is a risk of serious harm. However, civil liberties groups have inquired why this also applies to secondary schools and sixth-formers.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said:
“We are determined to give teachers the powers they need to tackle bad behaviour in classrooms and keep children safe. Orderly classrooms enhance the rights of all children to learn. We are confident the bill is compatible with Convention Rights.”
It is the responsibility of teachers and other school staff to look after their pupils and attempt to eliminate all types of bullying, but they must be careful not to abuse these new powers. They should only be used when there is a strong suspicion that a child has dangerous prohibited items or is the victim of bullying, not as a general measure to search all pupils as a matter of routine.