Can Schools Confiscate Items From Students?

In General by Think Student Editor2 Comments

In school, many students may want to use some items, that may be deemed unsafe, or not allowed by the school. It may seem harmless, or there may be an intention to cause harm. Or maybe you have seen someone else with one of these. This is a common thing, and a question raised is whether schools can confiscate items from students?

Schools can confiscate any item that is classified as prohibited in the school rules, or in the UK governments lists of banned items in schools. This includes things like weapons, drugs, alcohol, stolen items and many more. This can be found due to a search, with or without consent. Along with this, they can take any item which may damage school discipline, such as your phone.

In the rest of this article, we will be discussing the more the laws around confiscation, and exactly which items can be confiscated. To find out more, read on.

What are schools’ confiscations laws in the UK?

Schools can confiscate any item that is deemed prohibited by the school in the rules, and by the government. This is the current law and is done in a way to ensure that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which can be found by clicking here) is maintained, by the compatible Education Act 1988 (which can be found by clicking here).

The list of prohibited items names by the UK government are:

  • knives or weapons
  • alcohol
  • illegal drugs
  • stolen items
  • tobacco and cigarette papers
  • fireworks
  • pornographic images
  • any article that the member of staff reasonably suspects has been, or is likely to be, used to either commit an offence or cause personal injury to, or damage to the property of, any person (including the pupil)

It is important to note that another thing listed is “Headteachers and authorised staff can also search for any item banned by the school rules which has been identified in the rules as an item which may be searched for”. In theory, this means that the school can confiscate any item that they have listed as prohibited outside of the school rules, outside of the governments list. All of this information can be found by clicking on this link to the UK governments website.

Can schools take your property?

Schools can take your property and keep it. If the possessions of a student were confiscated lawfully, then the teacher or member of staff involved is allowed to keep or dispose of the item however they wish.

It is also important to note that the teacher is not liable for any damage or loss occurred to the item. This is all listed in Article 91 in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which you can find by clicking on this link.

Are teachers allowed to take your phone?

In the UK it is completely legal for teachers to take your phone. They can do this for two reasons: if they believe it has evidence of criminal activity on it or is being used for illegal purposes, or as a punishment. They are also allowed to keep the phone for as long as they feel is necessary (as outlined in the school rules), and even dispose of it if this is reasonable and proportionate to the reason for the confiscation.

If school confiscates any item, including phones, then they must follow certain rules. The confiscation must be reasonable, proportionate, and imposed by any authorised person. This means it usually needs to be a paid member of teaching staff that confiscates the phone for it to be legal.

The confiscation is considered legally reasonable if it is proportionate to the circumstances, and that the pupil does not have personal characteristics such as SEND, religious requirements or age that may affect the punishment. For example, confiscating a pupil’s device which they use to speak using an app if it was being used correctly would not usually be reasonable.

Also, if students are young and require access to their phone to be safe when returning home for the night, the school needs to provide them with an adequate alternative communication with their parents.

Also, the school’s rules on phones and other devices should be “clearly communicated” to the pupil and their parents or guardians, for example signing a form when they join the school. This should outline what the school allows, and that the school has the right to confiscate any items that break this policy, and how long for.

For more information on this, the Schools Week article on confiscating phones has a lot of helpful information here.

How long can schools take your phone for?

Schools can take your phone for as long as they feel is proportionate and appropriate to the reason for confiscation. This is typically not for more than the rest of the class period, or until the end of the day, but depending on why it was confiscated it could be longer.

Even if the school adheres to all of the rules suggested in the previous section, there can still be complications to confiscating a phone. For example, schools have a duty of care to children, and so they must ensure they are still safe without their phone. This could mean allowing pupils to call home to check they have a lift from school or if they need to stay late for detention, making sure their parents know where they are and they have a way to get home.

Furthermore, schools can also confiscate your phone on a school trip, even if you are not on school property. This is less common, but still important, as teachers are still in “loco parentis”, which means they are in charge of you and need to keep you safe, which sometimes includes taking a phone away. Again, this punishment can last for as long as the teacher feels is necessary and reasonable for the offence committed.

To learn more about “loco parentis”, information can be found here from Legal Choices. Information about legal types of punishment used by UK schools can be found here, from Think Student.

Can schools search through your phone?

If schools believe there are files or data on your phone that may “relate to an offence or cause harm to another person” then they have the right to search it. For example, evidence of a crime, or of cyberbullying such as sending cruel messages or taking pictures without consent. However, they do not have the right to do this without good reasons like those suggested above.

Furthermore, schools have the right to erase data or files such as the ones above if they feel it is necessary. The phone does not need to be handed to police as evidence, unless they believe these files remaining on the phone would cause harm to the pupils or others. It is preferable for pupils or parents to delete things themselves, but not required.

The official government guidance on confiscating phones and other items in school can be found on the department for education website, here.

Can teachers search students?

Teachers are allowed to search students if they believe the student is in possession of a prohibited item (in the list above). This teacher can only be one paid by the school and authorised by the head teacher to search.

There are many rules to searching students set out by the government. The school does not require written consent to a search.

If the student gives consent, they can search for any item. If consent is not given, but they believe the student is in possession of a banned item, then they can be searched without consent.

The teacher doing the search must be of the same sex as the student, and there must be a teacher to witness the search who is also of the same sex. However, if it is not possible, or practical to do so it can be avoided on rare occasions.

There are also more rules on this, which can be found at this link to the government’s website, or you can click here to the Child Law Advice website for a simpler, full guide on this topic.

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11 months ago

I believe it depends on the country’s educational policies. If the school suspects your child of possessing any prohibited goods, they may search him or her. Before looking for your child, a staff member should always make an effort to elicit their cooperation. Headteachers and employees they authorize are legally permitted to search a student’s person or property if they have cause to suspect wrongdoing.

Chris Bayley
Chris Bayley
4 months ago

So your saying school can do what the police cannot. The police can not confiscate your phone and search through it without your consent or a court order. Yet a teacher can, they can also dispose of your phone. However, does the phone belong to the child, or to the fee payer who bought the phone and pays the contract on the phone?

Equally a police officer cannot search me without detaining me for search. It’s amazing the powers teachers have