Searching and screening

Schools in England can search and screen pupils and confiscate prohibited items.

Prohibited items include:

  • knives or weapons
  • alcohol
  • illegal drugs
  • stolen items
  • tobacco and cigarette papers
  • fireworks
  • pornographic images
  • any article that a member of staff reasonably suspects has been, or is likely to be, used to commit an offence or injure a person or damage property
  • any item which a school policy specifies as banned and able to be searched for.

Schools, by law, must clearly state in their behaviour policy which items are prohibited.


Schools can force you to be screened by a walk-through or hand-held metal detector whether or not they suspect you of having a weapon and without your consent. If you refuse to be screened, the school may refuse access on to the School premises.

With consent search

With your consent, school staff can search you for any item. The consent does not have to be in writing.

Without consent search

If you do not consent, a Headteacher or a member of staff authorised by the Headteacher can carry out a search for prohibited items where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that you are in possession of a prohibited item.

The extent of search

When being searched, you can only be told to remove ‘outer clothing’. ‘Outer clothing’ means clothing that is not worn next to the skin or immediately over underwear. School staff cannot carry out an intimate search; this can only be carried out by the police.

Searching your belongings

Your belongings can be searched with you and another member of staff present. In an emergency, your belongings can be searched without you or another staff member present. The school can search your desk, locker and bags.

Use of force

School staff can use reasonable force to search for prohibited items (see above) but not to search for items that are only banned under the school policy.


A member of staff can confiscate, keep or dispose of your property as a punishment, where reasonable to do so.

Complaining about a search

If you are unhappy about how a search has been carried out, you or your parents can complain to the School following the school complaints procedure. You or your parents may wish to consult the School discipline policy and the Government guidance on ‘searching, screening and confiscation’ in writing the complaint.


Can a school take my mobile phone?

If your phone has been used to commit an offence or if the school behaviour policy states that mobile phones are prohibited then it can be searched for and confiscated. The member of staff can look at data on the phone if there is good reason to do so and can delete files or images if they have been or could be used to cause harm, disrupt teaching or break school rules.

If you are suspected to have committed a criminal offence information held on your phone may be passed to the police.