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Department for Education ‘Guidance on Searching, screening and confiscation’

The Department for Education updated its advice on searching, screening and confiscation in schools in January this year. The guidance document, first issued in February 2014 was updated on 18 January 2018 to bring it in line with guidance on the prevention and tackling of bullying which can be found here.

The guidance document sets out:

  • powers to search without consent
  • prohibited items schools can search for
  • powers to confiscate items found during searches

The updated document contains an expanded section, “Statutory guidance for dealing with electronic devices”, which clarifies how schools are permitted to handle data or files on such an electronic device.

This states that schools may now lawfully examine data where it meets the following criteria:

  • that it is prohibited by the School rules; or
  • that (the school) reasonably suspect has been, or is likely to be, used to:
    - commit an offence; or
    - cause personal injury or damage to property.

The updated guidance explicitly states that if the member of staff has reasonable grounds to suspect the device contains evidence in relation to an offence or contains a pornographic image of a child or an extreme pornographic image, such material should not be deleted, and the device should be given to the police as soon as reasonably practicable.

This contrasts previous versions, which suggested schools could “erase any data or files where it thinks there is a good reason to do so”. Schools should therefore check and if necessary amend their relevant policies and practice to reflect the latest guidance and ensure their relevant staff are clear on this important point.

The updated version of guidance document can be found at Searching, screening and confiscation at school - GOV.UK

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